This Christmas, you may unknowingly put your credit rating at risk. We look at how ‘safe’ Australians really are online, and discover the ways you might wind up an identity theft victim and with a whole lot of bad credit history for Christmas.

By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO  of MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs and

We are connected to the world via the web at a rate like never seen before. And because of this, more people than ever will be shopping online for Christmas presents this year.

Here’s why:

A. It’s easy…think parking, think crowds and think traipsing through shop after shop which for many people looks like too much effort.

B. It saves time…the Christmas period is shocking for stretching time to the limit -work’s busy, your social life’s busy and the last thing many have time to do is any of A!

C. It’s convenient…you can shop when you feel like it, at a time that works for you.

D. It’s more relaxed…you can do it in your pyjamas, and you can do it with a glass of scotch.

E. In some cases it may be cheaper…you can find cheap deals on goods, and you can also shop at different stores to get one-off items.

BUT a word of warning people….

If you’re not careful, it can be the most costly way to shop.

Some alarming statistics about Australian online shoppers have just come to light from security company McAfee. Their new Holiday Shopping Study has found that out of 1,005 Australian adults, one in 10 believe there is no risk in connecting to free Wi-Fi, and nearly one in three don’t know how to identify a secure shopping site.

If this is true – shoppers – get to know very quickly – or put down that ipad and get back to the shops otherwise you can not only risk losing money by paying through illegitimate websites but you could also download a virus or at worst be at risk of ruining your credit rating.

There are scammers out everywhere willing to take your money – and they love Christmas time. You’re feeling generous and you’re a bit distracted. From a fraudster’s point of view, that’s perfect!

McAfee’s study was featured in online business publication Smart Company’s article late last week titled ‘Virus experts warn: beware of the 12 online scams of Christmas’:

“What makes the finding worse is that a third of Australians have either personally fallen victim to an online scam, or know someone who has.

This is an extremely important finding, McAfee points out, as Australia has the highest rate of smartphone and tablet ownership out of all the countries surveyed including the United States and Canada.

An impressive 69% of Aussies use a smartphone, tablet, or both – so it makes all the more sense they need to stay safe online.

Yet we seem more willing than ever to disregard online safety. Over half of Australians say they’ll provide their name and age, and 38% say they’d give their phone number.
But 25% don’t even pay attention to permissions when downloading apps,” the article says.

Online fraud can be a basic scam to lure funds, but it is also becoming more and more sophisticated, and cyber-criminals are not only looking to steal credit card details, but are targeting your personal information.

Identity theft is getting much more sophisticated as profits get more lucrative. Many fraudsters are into building a profile of their victim – obtaining layers of information which allows them to access large amounts of credit in the victim’s name.

Some victims have had credit cards and loans taken out, even properties mortgaged in their names.

The difficulty for recovery when someone has tapped in to your credit rating is that generally you have defaults listed in your name, which basically means for 5 years your ability to obtain credit is ruined.

McAfee warns consumers in its blog ‘The top 12 scams of Christmas to watch out for’ – 2012. Take a look at make sure you don’t get caught out.

1) Social media scams—Many of us use social media sites to connect with family, friends, and co-workers over the holidays, and the cybercriminals know that this is a good place to catch you off guard because we’re all “friends,” right? Here are some ways that criminals will use these channels to obtain shopper’s gift money, identity or other personal information:

• Scammers use channels, like Facebook and Twitter, just like email and websites to scam consumers during the holidays. Be careful when liking Fan Pages, clicking on fake alerts from friends’ accounts that have been hacked, taking advantage of raffle’s, ads and deals that you get from “friends,” or installing suspicious “holiday deal” apps that give your private data away.

• Twitter ads and special discounts for popular gifts are especially popular, and utilize blind, shortened links, many of which could easily be malicious. Criminals are getting savvier with authentic-looking social ads and deals that take consumers to legitimate looking websites. In order to take advantage of the deals or contests, they ask them for personal information that can obtain a shopper’s credit card number, email address, phone number or home address.

2) Malicious Mobile Apps—As smartphone users we are app crazy, downloading over 25 billion apps

[1] for Android devices alone! But as the popularity of applications have grown, so have the chances that you could download a malicious application designed to steal your information or even send out premium-rate text messages without your knowledge. Consider this: A recent study found that 33%[2] of apps ask for more information than they need, such as access to your contacts or location.

•TIP: So, if you unwrap a new smartphone this holiday season, make sure that you only download applications from official app stores and check other users’ reviews, as well as the app’s permission policies, before downloading. Software, such as McAfee Mobile Security, can also help protect you against dangerous apps.

3) Travel Scams—Many of us travel to visit family and friends over the holidays and begin our journey online looking for deals on airfare, hotels, and rental cars. But before you book, keep in mind that the scammers are looking to hook you with too-good-to-be-true deals. Phony travel webpages with beautiful pictures and rock-bottom prices are used to get you to hand over your financial details.

• Even when you’re already on the road you need to be careful. For example, the FBI recently warned travelers of a hotel Wi-Fi scam in which a malicious pop-up ad prompts computer users to install a popular software product before connecting to their hotel Wi-Fi.[3] If you agree to the installation, it downloads malware onto your machine.

• TIP: Remember to perform a security software update before traveling, to guard you against the latest scams.

4) Holiday Spam/Phishing— If you’re like most people, you’re probably familiar with spam emails containing questionable offers. But get ready, because soon many of these spam emails will take on holiday themes. Cheap Rolex watches and pharmaceuticals may be advertised as the “perfect gift” for that special someone. McAfee also expects to see an increase is holiday-themed phishing emails that try to trick you into revealing financial or personal details by posing as an offer from a legitimate business.
TIP: Remember never to respond to a spam email, or click on an included link.

5) The new iPad, iPhone 5, and other hot holiday gift scams—The kind of excitement and buzz surrounding Apple’s new iPad and iPhone 5 is just what cybercrooks dream of when they plot their scams. They will mention must-have holiday gifts in dangerous links, phony contests and phishing emails as a way to grab computer users’ attention. Once they’ve caught your eye, they can try to get you to reveal personal information or click on a dangerous link that could download malware onto your machine.

TIP: Be suspicious of any deal mentioning hot holiday gift items—especially at extremely low prices—and try to verify the offer with the retailer involved.

6) Skype Message Scare—People around the world will use Skype to connect with loved ones this holiday season, but they should be aware of a new Skype message scam that attempts to infect their machine, and even hold their files for ransom.

The threat appears as a Skype instant message with the scam line “Lol is this your new profile pic?”. If you click on the included link, a Trojan downloads onto your hard drive, blasts the dangerous link to all of your contacts, and can even try to extort money from some PC users to regain access to their files.
TIP: Never click on a suspicious link, even if it appears to come on from someone you know.

7) Bogus gift cards—Gift cards are probably the perfect choice for a lot of people on your holiday list, and given their popularity, cybercriminals can’t help but want to get in on the action by offering bogus gift cards online.

TIP: Be wary of buying gift cards from third parties; it’s best to buy from the official retailer. Just imagine how embarrassing it would be to find out that the gift card you gave your mother-in-law was fraudulent!

8) Holiday SMiShing — “SMiSishing” is phishing via text message. Just like with email phishing, the scammer tries to lure you into revealing information or performing an action you normally wouldn’t do by pretending to be a legitimate organization. Since many of us like to keep a close eye on our bank accounts during the holidays, be wary of SMiShing messages that appear to come from your bank, asking you to verify information or visit a phony webpage.

TIP: Remember that real banks won’t ask you to divulge personal information via text message. If you have any questions about your accounts, you should contact your bank directly.

9) Phony E-tailers–No matter what gift you’re looking for, chances are you can find it quickly and easily online, but you still want to be careful in selecting which site to shop. Phony e-commerce sites, that appear real, try to lure you into typing in your credit card number and other personal details, often by promoting great deals. But, after obtaining your money and information, you never receive the merchandise, and your personal information is put at risk.

• This is exactly what happened to customers of, a copycat site of electronics repair store It turns out that was one of a host of the bogus e-commerce sites coming from the same IP address.

• TIP: That’s why it’s important to shop at trusted and well-known e-commerce sites. If you’re shopping on a site for the first time, check other users’ reviews and verify that the phone number listed on the site is legitimate.

10) Fake charities—This is one of the biggest scams of every holiday season. As we open up our hearts and wallets, the bad guys hope to get in on the giving by sending spam emails advertising fake charities. They may try to fool you into thinking that they are a real charity, such as the Red Cross, with a stolen logo and copycat text, or the charity may be entirely invented. For example, one man ran a bogus charity for the “U.S. Navy Veterans Association” and gathered $2 million from donors over five years![4]

• TIP: If you want to give, it’s always safer to visit the charity’s legitimate website, and do a little research about the charity before you donate.

11) Dangerous e-cards—E-Cards a popular way to send a quick “thank you” or holiday greeting, and there are plenty of free and paid e-card sites out there. And while most e-cards are safe, some are malicious and may contain spyware or viruses that download onto your computer once you click on the link to view the greeting.

• Others ask you to click on an attachment to view the card, and then download a Trojan onto your machine. That’s why you should look for clues that the e-card is legitimate.

• TIP: Make sure that the card comes from a well-known e-card site by checking the domain name of the included link. Also check to see that the sender is someone you actually know, and that there are no misspellings or other clues that the card is a fake.

12) Phony classifieds—Online classified sites may be a great place to look for holiday gifts and part-time jobs, but beware of phony offers that asked for too much personal information or ask you to wire funds via Western Union, since these are most likely scams. If you’re going to purchase an item or apply for a job, try to do it in person in a public place.

TIP: When purchasing an item, pay in cash and never agree to pay for an item before receiving it.

If you do get caught out falling for a scam this Christmas, or clicking on a dodgy link – it is best to take steps to secure your computer (change passwords, run virus scans) your bank accounts, and also your credit file. Alert your Creditors to a possible identity theft issue and also contact the credit reporting agencies which hold information about your credit file. It is a good idea to check your credit file – and you can do this for free once per year. A credit report will be mailed to you within 10 working days.

If you find anything on your credit file that doesn’t look right, or points to possible identity theft, let Police know immediately. If you need help recovering your good name so that you can take out credit in the next five years, you may need to call a professional credit repairer to help. Contact us on 1300 667 218 for more information on credit repair following identity theft or when any credit listing should not be on your credit file.

Image: photostock/

Image 2: Salvatore Vuono/

Image 3: Stuart Miles/