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‘Tis the season to be hustled, so avoid these cons

The holidays are just about here, and it seems like the thieves are in overdrive.

Here are a few deceptive dupes to watch for:

Secret Sister Gift Exchange

This is your basic pyramid scheme, operating online and masquerading as a festive holiday exchange.

The happy message will come to you as a tag from one of your supposed Facebook friends, warns Scam Detector Inc. This person, who is not your friend, will tell you that if you buy a gift worth $10 or more and send it to one “secret sister,” you will be rewarded with between six and 36 gifts in return.

After the pitch, the “friend” says this: “TIS the season! And it’s getting closer. Comment if you’re in. I know we can all use a little pick me up. So what better way to brighten your day than a surprise gift.”

The real surprise is that you will have to provide personal information including your Social Security number (“to prove you are the real person who signed up”) and address (“for the participant to know where to send your gifts to”), according to Scam Detector.

The scammer is hoping you will widen the holiday joy by tagging six of your friends, thereby expanding the pyramid scheme.

iTunes gift card invoice

The poor iTunes gift card. It is much in the news as a popular vehicle for scammers to collect money in everything from IRS schemes to debt collection to fake utility bills.

In a different twist, this holiday version comes as an email purporting to be from iTunes, and it tries to get you to click on an embedded link.

There will be an image of a gift card and an invoice and the message will be this: “You sent a iTunes Gift Card $200 to (somebody’s email address listed here — it varies). Your receipt No.114509772‏”.

Of course, you undoubtedly did no such thing, and so you might be tempted to cancel the transaction. The invoice provides the link for you to do this, but if you do, you will be taken to a fake website asking you for personal information.

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Dallas Love Field, Phoenix Sky Harbor and Hobby Airport in Houston have been named among the 10 most vulnerable airports when it comes to hackers getting into free or low-cost Wi-Fi networks.

The rankings, released earlier this year, were done by Coronet, a cloud security company. The study was based on data from more than 250,000 business and pleasure travelers who used the nation’s 45 busiest airports during a five-month period.

The company said it analyzed the data to study device vulnerabilities and Wi-Fi network risks.

“Far too many U.S. airports have sacrificed the security of their Wi-Fi networks for consumer convenience,” Dror Liwer, Coronet’s founder, said in a statement. “As a result, business travelers in particular put not just their devices, but their company’s entire digital infrastructure at risk every time they connect to Wi-Fi that is unencrypted, unsecured or improperly configured.”

The Identity Theft Resource Center suggests using a virtual private network or your own device’s data connection at the airport if you have financial or other personal information on your phone and/or you can’t wait until you’re in a secure location.

Worry the most if you’re in the San Diego Airport, which ranked at the highest threat level, the study said. You’re most secure at Chicago Midway and Raleigh Durham International Airport in North Carolina. (The Albuquerque airport was not included in the study.)

In general, protect your information when using wireless hotspots by sending information only to sites that are fully encrypted, and avoiding use of mobile apps that require personal or financial information.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.