‘Tis the season for cybercrime: 5 tips to avoid getting hacked this holiday season

Cybercriminals are more active than ever during the holiday season, and there is a reason for that. As consumers spend more money, they tend to lose track of spending, said Richard White, Ph.D., a professor for the Cybersecurity and Information Assurance program at the University of Maryland University College.

White, who also served as Chief Information Security Officer for the United States Capitol Police, provided us with five key tips for avoiding being a victim of cybercrime this holiday season.


Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi – like the network you might use at the train station, bus terminal or your favorite coffee shop – is a popular hangout for cyber thieves, particularly during the holidays.

“Be careful when using public Wi-Fi," White told Fox News. "Never view personal or financial information” while connected to one of them.

Fake credit card readers

Fake credit card readers or scanners, often referred to as “skimmers,” grab the data off the card's magnetic stripe. A criminal can then use the data to create cloned cards or gain access to a person’s bank account.

“This happens with increased frequency during the holidays at gas pumps, public ATMs, laundromats and vending machines,” White said. “Look for flimsy construction, poorly painted materials, oversized or bulging materials, any type of exposed wiring, or anything regarding the card reader that looks out of the ordinary.”

He added that people should also “beware of camera placement when using any type of card reader.” A well-placed camera can see your PIN.


Bogus ads

“Beware of ads that are too good to be true,” White said. “They usually lead to sites that are not secure or already breached.”

People should also not click on links that are "unknown or unexpected,” according to White.

Charity scams

Charity scams are also a big concern around the holiday season, White said.

“Be wary of charity scams and requests for donations received via email and phone. This time of year there is a lot of this, unfortunately. Always contact the organization directly and see how you can help. Never take the word of someone who blindly reaches out to you via phone or email.”


Baseline your finances

“Make sure you know your credit card charges and balances, special accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages, etc.,” White said.

“This will be your baseline or a current snapshot of your authorized charges and balances,” he added, pointing out consumers can then use this as a starting point for a "known-good" state if anything suspicious is discovered.

“Once the holidays are over, gather the same [documentation] again and review it for unauthorized changes and charges.”

Simple precautions, such as not sharing passwords or pin numbers and keeping your laptop and PC updated, should be also taken.