Beware these 6 holiday-season email scams

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Holiday shopping season has arrived - and so have holiday-shopping scams!

In addition to reading 14 Dangerous Holiday Shopping Scams to Avoid about various forms of scams that proliferate during this time of year, I suggest that everyone watch out for the following email scams:

1. "There are problems with your order" emails

Criminals may send you an email that appears to come from a major online retailer, and which tells you that there is some problem with one of your orders. The email may, for example, tell you that an item is back-ordered and not going to arrive before Christmas or Hanukkah, and ask you to verify whether or not you still want the order to be placed. To do so, you are instructed to click some link, that, naturally, takes you to a site that either "phishes you" and steals your login information to the retailer's site, installs malware on your computer, or both. If you receive any emails from any retailers telling you that there are problems with some order, do not click links in the messages; instead, visit the retailers' websites directly by entering their URLs into your web browser. And, of course, do not open attachments sent to you by retailers (or, as the case may be, parties impersonating retailers). Keep in mind that scammers usually do not know what you have purchased online or your order numbers - so any email that does not reference an order number and items ordered, but which appears to come from an online store, is especially suspect; that said, most people do not know order numbers by heart and do not bother checking them when they receive an email, so a criminal who puts a random order number of the form actually used by a retailer is likely to trick many folks into believing that an email is legitimate. Don't fall for that scam.

2. "There are problems with your payment" emails

This scam email, which is a variant of the one mentioned above, entails a "retailer" sending you a message that there is some problem with a payment that you used for making a purchase; the email asks you to submit new credit card, debit card, or other payment-related information either by clicking some link, responding via email, or by calling some phone number. Don't do any of these. As before, go to the retailer's website to check for any problems with the order - do not trust emails. Also, keep in mind that you should not trust an email just because it contains the last four digits of your credit card number - criminals could have stolen this information, but, even if not, the laws of probability dictate that someone sending out millions of scam emails containing a random four-digit code will get those numbers right for thousands of people. You could be one of them.

3. Delivery-service problem emails

Holiday season is the busiest time of year for package delivery services; a larger number of people than at any other point during the year receive items that are transported from sellers and delivered by UPS, FedEx, the United States Postal Service, and other couriers. Criminals exploit people's anticipation of (and reliance on) deliveries - by sending emails and text messages that impersonate correspondence from courier services. As before, these messages may deliver malware via attachments, or may direct users to phishing or malware-spreading websites. If you have questions about a delivery - or receive an email alert about a delivery - visit the carrier's website by entering its URL into a web browser and then submitting the relevant tracking number; do not click on links in an email or open attachments.

4. Fake invoice emails

Sometimes criminals send fake invoices impersonating online stores; these "invoices" may scare people into thinking that they placed an unintended order, or were charged more than they expected for some item, leading them to click links within the invoice message in order to contact the seller. If you receive an invoice for an order that you do not recognize, or that has incorrect information, contact the seller directly - do not follow any instructions contained within the invoice.

5. Bogus deal emails

Criminals know that shopping is on many people's minds, so they send out emails with bogus "amazing deals" featured within the messages. A $100 Amazon gift card for $10? A free $500 item from eBay? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In any case, check for deals by going to retailers' real websites by entering their URLs into your browser, or by going to known shopping and deals sites; as before, do not click links in emails - no matter how good a deal within them seems.

6. Fake survey emails

During the holiday season, people are especially likely to fall prey to scams involving fake surveys offering great rewards in exchange for participation; surveys focused on holiday shopping sound real, especially when the survey email claims that the survey is sponsored by some online retailer with which the shopper just did business. Don't click links in surveys or open attachments - better yet, it is often best not to participate at all.

Good luck with your holiday shopping!

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