Wanting to send a friend or family member a congratulatory message or card for the holidays is an admirable trait, but the growing popularity of e-cards, or electronic cards, that are sent via email, have now become a prime way to infect your computer with viruses and spyware. Here are some pointers to avoid such a calamity:
Don’t Open Anything from An Unknown Sender
If you don’t know the person sending you a message or e-card, DO NOT OPEN IT. If it looks fishy in any way and it comes from someone you think you know, check with them first. Many scammers will send something that looks like it’s from an actual person, when in fact it’s just an electronically generated name. These can also include generic or obviously made-up names such as “Card Sender,” “Joe Cool” or “Secret Admirer.”
Watch for Common Grammatical Mistakes
Opening any message that contains a misspelled word such as “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” should immediately send your danger radar in overtime. The best recourse is to quickly delete the message and avoid opening any attachments or following links at all cost or at least run a reverse email search to lookup the owner before any action.
Keep Your Antivirus Software Up to Date
Most antivirus software programs will warn you about potential dangers in an attachment, but you must keep the program up to date for the most recent threats and definitions. These can change on a daily and regular basis, so set it up to automatically update at night when you aren’t going to be on your PC, for example.
If you make it far enough that you actually click on a link or download a fake e-card, you’ll likely be barraged with further scam emails, pop-up ads and can even cause your computer to automatically launch adult website content.
Some types of spyware might steal your email contact information and send even more bogus e-cards or worse – obscene messages and images – to your contacts, making it look as if they were legitimately sent by you.
Read the Fine Print
Look for Content That Seems Amiss
If you receive a message that says you sent a card when you didn’t, or you notice it came from an odd website address or contains a link that seems like a made-up address, delete it immediately. Some of these scammers have become so adept at avoiding detection that they’re becoming more and more clever about hiding their deception almost daily.
Avoid Giving Out Secure Information
If you’ve been infected, it’s quite possible that at some point you will try to visit a legit website or log into an account and a pop-up will ask you to re-enter your username and password to confirm your identity. This is a telltale sign of spyware, which sometimes will hibernate in your system until you visit a website they’ve learned to mimic and steal your information. If there is ever any doubt, call the company or contact them via email to determine whether it was actually them that was asking for the verification.
Most websites and online retailers now have multiple-step verification and login processes to ensure you’re not being convinced to give your information away or that someone unauthorized is pretending to be you. This means that you’ll be prompted to verify your identity by answering secret questions, or you’ll receive a code via text or email to make sure you have access to all of your communication tools.
The best defense against e-card scams is to always be vigilant and notice every detail about a message sent to you, even if it appears to be from friends and family, to see if anything seems awry. Remember never to open any type of attachment unless you know what it is and where it came from, avoid following any link from an apparent e-card message, and you’ll greatly reduce the chances of becoming a victim.