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updated 10/28/2011 6:19:23 PM ET 2011-10-28T22:19:23

As Halloween draws near, online crooks are preparing an onslaught of spam, hoping to dress up their evil software in attractive costumes and trick you into infecting your computer.

The Halloween-themed emails promise free or discounted pirated copies of more than 500 enticing products, including Microsoft Windows 7 and Office 2010 and software from Adobe, Corel and Kaspersky Lab. Spotted by researchers at the security firm Bitdefender, many of the offending emails are titled "Halloween sale," and come "adorned with images of pumpkins and witches" to complete the spooky vibe, Bitdefender's global research director Catalin Cosoi said.

Downloading pirated software puts you at risk. The knock-off products, Cosoi wrote, are often vulnerable to exploits because they don't receive the same updates and patches as legitimate software.

These offers aren't the only tricks up spammers' sleeves this Halloween, Cosoi said. Bitdefender has seen phony, malware-laden emails shilling everything from candy and Halloween costumes to $250 gift vouchers, ink, flowers and pornography.

The security firm has also seen greeting cards that lure you into clicking on a link to read them; if you do, what you thought was a holiday card turns out to be a nightmare for your computer, dropping dangerous malware onto your machine that can allow an attacker to take control of your system.

To keep your computer healthy this Halloween, be skeptical of any special offers you receive through unsolicited emails or social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Be careful when clicking on links, especially shortened URLs ; they are a favorite tool for online crooks looking to redirect you to compromised websites. Never install software from an untrusted source, and always make sure you're running up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer to detect threats before they can get to you.

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