As you travel or buy gifts, cybercriminals are prepping for your holiday trip too

Nov 21, 2023, 7:16 PM

Holiday cyber criminals...

Computer hacker silhouette. Green binary code background (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

You aren’t the only one prepping for your holiday getaway, cybercriminals are too.

According to the Cybercrime Support Network, criminals are taking advantage of the fact that this time of year, people are emotional, excited and a little stressed out as we prep for the holiday season. In fact, they are counting on it.

Ally Armeson, the Cybercrime Support Network’s executive director of programs, said being distracted and giving away personal information like holiday travel plans on social media is an open invitation for criminals looking for a vulnerable target.

“All these things make us a little more susceptible to scams,” Armeson said. “So we kind of need to be just aware of our emotional states and what scammers are going to do to us during this time of year.”

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Armeson emphasized that scammers are on social media, too, and they are watching public profiles for information they can use to get your money.

“A big thing we want to warn people against is posting every detail of your travel on social media. Right?” Armeson said. “And they love it when you’re posting that you’re frustrated because what they’ve started to do is impersonate these airlines, these hotels, these car rental companies. If you find a profile that looks legitimate for an airline or something and you say, ‘Hey, my flight has been canceled, help me,’ the scammer will then be very willing to help you quickly and ask for your personal information and your payment information. And unfortunately, they’re just stealing all of that from you.”

The FBI’s website has additional tips to consider. For example, revealing piece of information like pet names, schools, and names of family members can give scammers the hints they need to guess your passwords or the answers to your account security questions.

Beware of phishing

As the holiday season continues, you might notice an uptick of unsolicited communication like phishing emails or phishing texts, Armeson said. Phishing is when a cyber criminal sends emails or other messages pretending to be from a reputable company in order to obtain your personal information, including your bank account.

“You’re starting to get them during the season, either about packages or travel; some of those are a gamble, right? The cybercriminals assume you’re buying stuff, and they assume you’re traveling. So you’ll get those phishing texts or emails, like click here, right for a better deal, a better travel deal or click here to buy something.”

The golden rule is don’t trust any unsolicited communication.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and FBI are in alignment with Armeson’s views with CISA coming up with a tagline for internet users: “Think before you click.”

“If it’s a link you don’t recognize, trust your instincts and think before you click,” the CISA website states. “We all need to Phight the Phish!”

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Watch out for the Wi-Fi

“You got to do your due diligence. You got to research using official websites, official phone numbers, so phishing is always something to be aware of,” Armeson said. “But also be cautious using public Wi-Fi. We love public Wi-Fi and connecting to it, but, unfortunately, cybercriminals can exploit those unsecured Wi-Fi networks and intercept our information and login credentials.”

If you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can connect to that Wi-Fi, but word to the wise — don’t do your banking or anything with sensitive information. A VPN will protect you up to a certain point, but you never know.

“Cybercriminals are getting so good, right? So you if you have to connect, connect with a VPN and then just scroll social media, right? Keep it light. Don’t do anything serious,” Armeson said.

Aremeson’s most important tips are the following:

  1. Don’t post on social media about your trips until you come back.
  2. Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi.
  3. Log on to the internet using a VPN.
  4. Stop using 123456 as your personal password, especially on your bank accounts.
  5. Don’t answer any unsolicited emails or text messages about packages or personal accounts.

Two more tips from both CISA and FBI: First, implementing multifactor authentication — or two-step factor authentication — on your accounts makes it much less likely you’ll get hacked. Second, keep your software updated as “bad actors will exploit flaws in the system,” CISA notes.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki Gamez on X, formerly known as Twitter or email her here.

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As you travel or buy gifts, cybercriminals are prepping for your holiday trip too