For the past year or so, we've seen a significant uptick in attempted scams and frauds around every holiday. Many of them trace back to the Storm Warn gang, a crime ring based out of Germany that sells hacker software. Their last big attack was at the Fourth of July and tricked many thousands of users into downloading the 'storm-bot' trojan by offering a fake video clip of "the largest fireworks" celebration in the nation. Victims found their computer hijacked as part of a bot-net or had keystroke loggers and other malicious software loaded onto their computer.
If past patterns hold true, we can expect to see a dramatic rise in the volume of spam and phishing attempts during this holiday season. Some of their cons last holiday season included dedicated sites like the Merrychristmasdude.com website (a site offering suggestive holiday-themed photos along with a very malicious download) and spam emails such as the Happy New Year phishes. This group develops very sophisticated software with hundreds of variants that attempt to evade and outrun standard anti-virus software.
To combat these scams, first be suspicious. Never open unexpected messages or attachments.
Second, keep your anti-virus up to date at all times. Set your anti-virus to automatically update itself as often as the software allows. And if you're particularly suspicious about an email or website, force a manual update before clicking the link. Remember that if your kids have a computer at home that runs under parental controls, their computer may not be able to complete the update under the restricted ID. Their computer may be at risk until you log on under your parental ID so the updates can take hold.
Finally, keep your firewall turned on and be very suspicious of any 'free' video or other offer sent through the internet. In particular, be cautious about electronic greeting cards. While some are legit, many are frauds. See this tip for some thoughts on how to sort out e-card invitations.