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msnbc.com
updated 11/16/2010 7:34:31 PM ET 2010-11-17T00:34:31

Shoppers looking for holiday bargains are already scouring the Web as well as incoming e-mails and text messages for deals — and cyber criminals are quite busy, too, hoping to lure you in with a deal that seems too good to be true.

"We’re all looking for a great deal online, but some sites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true," said Alison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau.

"Every holiday season BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a supposedly great deal online, but received nothing in return." (For more tips on shopping safely online, see the BBB's list here.)

Security software company McAfee recently released its "12 Scams of Christmas" list, and offers of "free" iPads — among this year's most coveted tech gadgets — comes in at No. 1.

"With Apple products topping most shopping lists this holiday season, scammers are busy distributing bogus offers for free iPads" via e-mail spam, McAfee said.

In the e-mail, "consumers are asked to purchase other products and provide their credit card number to get the free iPad. Of course, victims never receive the iPad or the other items, just the headache of reporting a stolen credit card number."

Meanwhile, in the Facebook, Twitter or other social media version of the ruse, users are asked to "take a quiz to win a free iPad and must supply their cell phone number to receive the results. In actuality they are signed up for a cell phone scam that costs $10 a week," McAfee said.

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Here's the rest of the company's "12 Scams of Christmas" list:

2. "Help! I’ve Been Robbed" — "This travel scam sends phony distress messages to family and friends requesting that money be wired or transferred so that they can get home."

We and other news organizations have written about this before, especially as an issue on Facebook, where people feel like they trust information that's posted. With so many people traveling during the holiday season, though, it's easy to fall prey to this one.

3. Fake gift cards — Social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace as examples) are used by no-goodniks to "promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing consumers’ information and money, which is then sold to marketers or used for ID theft," says McAfee.

"One recent Facebook scam offered a 'free $1,000 Best Buy gift card" to the first 20,000 people who signed up for a Best Buy fan page, which was a lookalike. To apply for the gift card they had to provide personal information and take a series of quizzes."

4. Holiday job offers — Maybe for some, the recession is over, but not for many of us still. Which is why "as people seek extra cash for gifts this holiday season, Twitter scams offer dangerous links to high-paying, work-at-home jobs that ask for your personal information, such as your e-mail address, home address and Social Security number to apply for the fake job."

5. "Smishing" — You've heard of phishing? "Smishing" is when a phishing SMS, or text messages, arrives on your cell phone, wanting you to bite.

"These texts appear to come from your bank or an online retailer saying that there is something wrong with an account and you have to call a number to verify your account information. In reality, these efforts are merely a ruse to extract valuable personal information from the targets," McAfee says.

"Cyber crooks know that people are more vulnerable to this scam during the holiday season when consumers are doing more online shopping and checking bank balances frequently."

6. Suspicious holiday rentals — Many of us are looking to save on that Christmas-y cabin in the mountains or chic vacation apartment in the city of our dreams. "During peak travel times when consumers often look online for affordable holiday rentals, cyber crooks post fake holiday rental sites that ask for down payments on properties by credit card or wire transfer."

7. Recession scams continue — "Scammers target vulnerable consumers with recession related scams such as pay-in-advance credit schemes. McAfee Labs has seen a significant number of spam e-mails advertising pre-qualified, low-interest loans and credit cards if" — that emphasis is mine —"the recipient pays a processing fee, which goes directly into the scammer’s pocket."

8. Grinch-like greetings, involving e-cards — Electronic cards can save paper and postage, but "cyber criminals load fake versions with links to computer viruses and other malware instead of cheer ... Computers may start displaying obscene images, pop-up ads, or even start sending cards to contacts that appear to come from you."

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9. Low price traps — Discussed above, as the "too good to be true" deals, which are promoted on some auction sites and fake websites. The aim, McAfee says: "the goal of stealing your money and information."

10. Charity scams — "Common ploys include phone calls and spam e-mails asking you to donate to veterans’ charities, children's causes and relief funds for the latest catastrophe."

11. Dangerous holiday downloads — "Holiday-themed screensavers, jingles and animations are an easy way for scammers to spread viruses and other computer threats especially when links come from an e-mail or IM that appears to be from a friend."

12. Hotel and airport Wi-Fi vulnerabilities — This is an anytime risk with thieves who are savvy enough to hack into public networks being used by hurried travelers. Hacker-thieves can steal credit card numbers, bank accounts and other forms of personal identity; try not to access bank accounts, for example, or give your credit card number online while using public Wi-Fi. It's a good rule for every day — not just for the holidays.

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