(BPT) - It doesn't matter if it's the day after Thanksgiving or the night before Christmas, cybercriminals don't take a holiday.
"People are spending with reckless abandon this time of year," says Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals."
To avoid falling victim to these creative crooks, financial services company USAA advises consumers to watch out for these five common cyberscams.
Fake shopping sites
With all the hype about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumers go into shopping mode expecting to find good deals. But it is possible to get sucked in by websites selling counterfeit goods or overseas-based sites that take your money and provide nothing in return.
"Deals that are too good to be true are a huge red flag," warns Scambook.com, a site that collects consumer complaints.
* Never follow links sent by email. If you're going to follow search engine results, learn about the site before you make purchases or provide personal information.
* Watch out for sites with names that sound similar to popular sites or include a brand name in the URL. Research the site by typing its name into a search engine with the word complaints. You can also put the name in the Better Business Bureau database. If you don't find anything wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean you're home free. It could indicate the site was recently created. Scam sites often pop up overnight and quickly disappear when enough people catch on. SiteJabber.com also publishes user reviews of sites.
Promises of free stuff
Promotions to like a company's Facebook page in exchange for a $1,000 gift card or getting texts with similar ploys have become more prevalent. Why? Because people fall for them. Identity thieves count on consumers entering their personal and financial information to get the freebie.
A company is not going to give away a $1,000 gift card in exchange for a like and won’t randomly text you with a similar deal. If you see one of these come-ons, delete it.
Buying through online auctions or classified sites
If you're looking for a deal or an offbeat item, turning to online auctions or classified sites could make sense. But they are also home to numerous scams.
* Use a credit card when buying online. Credit cards can protect consumers against fraud.
* Don't make a payment using a money transfer service to anyone you don't personally know, and use the same caution when asked to pay with a prepaid debit card.
* Don't pay upfront. If you're buying something locally, pay upon receipt of the item.
Phony Black Friday or other ads
If you're planning to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you want to see the big sales in advance. Cybercrooks know that so they create sites that try to capture traffic from searches for sales fliers. The goal is to get your personal information or have you click a link that loads your computer with malware that captures and transmits your information to them.
* Don't click on random links, and don't download attachments from people you don't know.
* Be sure your malware and virus protection software is up-to-date and turned on.
Holiday vacation deals you don't want
If the idea of spending the holidays on a cruise or lying on a warm beach appeals to you, you may be tempted by an offer laden with freebies. "Anytime you see the word 'free,' alarm bells should go off," Elliott says. "Free cruise. Free all-inclusive vacation. Free flights. All of those things are signs that you are probably looking at a scam."
In these sorts of deals, at some point you're going to be asked to a pay "taxes" or a fee. "Once you buy in, they'll promise you the world and they'll ask you to wire money," Elliott says.
* Use only trusted travel sites and rental agencies when booking.
* Don't fall for gimmicks that make a pricey vacation look like something you can get for a fee or a couple of hundred dollars. When those tantalizing promises are dangled, Elliott says, "don't walk away - run."