5 Scams to Beware of This Holiday Season

What to know about fake charities and credit card safety.

— -- Holidays are a time for joy, family and maybe a few presents. But it's also when scammers and thieves are on the lookout for shoppers who let their guard down.

Here's how to stay safe this holiday season, and what scams to watch out for:

Too Good to Be True Deals: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

"This is what we're considering the year of the breach," said Robert Siciliano, an online security expert for McAfee. "Consumers need to recognize that there's a solid chance their email is currently in the hands of a criminal."

That's why people should watch out for emails appearing to be from big brands offering dirt-cheap deals.

"Do not click the links in the body of the email -- just don't do that," he said. There's a chance the email is a fake. To find out if the deal if real, visit the retailer's website directly.

Fake Charities: People might feel the urge to be charitable during the holidays, but they should always make sure they are giving to a reputable organization.

Never hand over your financial information to someone who calls claiming to be from a charity, Siciliano said. If you want to give, call the organization directly. The same goes for online transactions. Instead of clicking an email link purporting to be from a charity, go directly to that group's website to donate.

$100 Bill Scam: Police in Maryland have warned citizens about a scary scam involving a thief who places a $100 bill on the windshield of a parked car, and waits for the driver to return. The driver gets in the car and sees the bill on the windshield, and when they get out to grab it, leaving the car door open, the thief then swipes the vehicle. At least, that's the crook's plan, according to the Maryland Attorney General's office. However, there have been no police reports about the scam, the attorney general's office said.

Credit Card Fraud: You should be cautious with your credit cards year-round, but especially around the holidays, when you're probably more likely to use them, experts said.

Carolyn Balfany of MasterCard said people who do their Christmas shopping online should be careful to only use well-established websites.

"Look for security markers," she said. "The consumer should be vigilant and smart, and only shop on trusted website with merchants they know."

Avoid giving your credit card number to someone verbally or letting anyone write the number down.

iScams: People use their smartphones more than ever today, and the holiday season is no exception.

But be careful about what apps you download around the holidays. New ones may not be entirely secure, according to McAfee. Watch out for apps that request too many permissions -- they may get access to information you want to keep private, the company said.

And only download apps from an official app store, never from a third-party.