I trust everyone had a good holiday break and hope you have a good new year. With the way 2008 ended, many people are making plans for the future. Unfortunately, some of those planners include phishers and social engineers. And as I’m sure you’ve seen, they are getting more and more creative and professional in their scams. The days when you could delete a message just because it was poorly written are long gone. Today’s scams are targeted, well-written and spell-checked.

In particular, we are already an increase in phishing messages that reference the recipient’s holiday credit care spending pattern. The messages will claim to be requests for confirmation, reports of transactions and even a few of the traditional “your account has been frozen” scams. During the holiday season, many people have more transactions and shop with more different merchants; the scammers are attempting to exploit any confusion over those transactions in order to trick you into disclosing your account information, passwords, etc. If last year is any indication, expect that phishing campaign to accelerate during this week and last until the middle of next month or so.

We are also seeing a number of scams related to the economy. The number of work-at-home scam messages is up dramatically. As you may remember from prior tips, these scams promise easy money either for helping transfer funds or to conduct “quality control checks” on merchandise. In the first case, you become part of a money laundering operation, in the second, a fence. Either way, you’re like to get a visit from some federal law enforcement agency. If it were that easy to make money, they wouldn’t need to be sending out random emails about it.

Interestingly, the old “Nigerian fraud” is back in large numbers. These are fairly transparent messages alleging that someone needs your help to get money out of a foreign country (usually in Sub-Saharan Africa) and offering you a percentage if you will allow the person to transfer the money through your bank account. Foreign lottery scams are also back in significant numbers. I believe that by now most people know that these messages are scams but in times of financial difficulty, sometimes hope trumps common sense.

If an email asks for your personal information or if it contains an offer that looks too good to be true, trust your intuition and delete the message. To learn more about how to identify common scams, check out some of the links in the archived Tips on phishing. Have a safe New Year.

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