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4 holiday shopping scams to avoid in 2020: Phishing, pyramid schemes and more

Learn how to recognize the most common ways criminals are targeting you and your pocketbook this holiday season.

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Dale Smith
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1 of 7 James Martin/CNET

Don't become a statistic

Don't wait until you appear on a map of cybercrime, like this one by antivirus software maker Symantec. If you're among the millions of consumers who Adobe Analytics predicts will spent a record-breaking $189 billion during the 2020 holiday shopping season, you need to arm yourself with the knowledge to sniff out cyber-schemes before you become a victim.

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2 of 7 Angela Lang/CNET

This Facebook gift exchange could leave you empty-handed

If someone on Facebook tags you to join a "Secret Sister" gift exchange this holiday season, beware -- it might be little more than a pyramid scheme dressed up for the holidays. The idea is that you send one $10 gift to the person above you on the list (who may or may not be someone you actually know), then add your name beneath theirs and forward the list to 36 more people (who are supposed to each send one $10 to you). 

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3 of 7 Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Don't feed the phishers

survey by cybersecurity company McAfee reports that 41% of Americans fell victim to email phishing schemes in 2019. In a phishing scheme, the victim receives an email or text message directing them to enter payment information or other personal details on a fraudulent website, which is often designed to look just like a legitimate site. Check out our guide on how to detect phishing bait before you get reeled in this season.

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4 of 7 Jigsaw

Test your phish-detecting skills

Think you've learned how to spot a phishing email? Google subsidiary Jigsaw put together an online quiz you can take to see whether or not you'd fall for holiday scammers' bait.

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5 of 7 Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

'Juice-jacking' fears may be overblown

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office published a blog post last season warning residents to avoid public USB charging stations while traveling, fearing that criminals could install malware to hack into connected devices. Although such an attack is theoretically possible, the urban myth-busting website Snopes.com points out in a post that the likelihood of getting juice-jacked is actually incredibly slim.

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6 of 7 Ariel Nunez/CNET

Credit card 'skimming' goes all-digital

Another thing to watch for while out shopping: Credit card skimmers that steal your personal information when you swipe a credit or debit card at the ATM, gas pump or other payment kiosk have been around for well over a decade, but last year thieves infected Macy's website with a digital version of that same technology.

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7 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

The 'key' to better online security

Looking for a security-focused stocking-stuffer? One way to thwart online criminals is to lock down your online accounts by requiring a physical security key -- like this Google Titan Bluetooth dongle -- to access your information. Google's Advanced Protection Program uses either the Titan or a similar key to strengthen security on Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs and other Google services. You can also use hardware keys to lock down your Microsoft Windows laptop or desktopiPhone or Android phone.

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