Valentine's Day: How to Avoid Heart-Shaped Cyber Scams

PHOTO: Valentines Day chocolate is seen here in this stock photo.Getty Images
Valentine's Day chocolate is seen here in this stock photo.

Valentine's Day is all about love -- but don't let online scammers tug at your heartstrings.

Cyber criminals use "anything that piques peoples' interest or brings them out of their usual frame of weariness ... that gets them interested enough to let down their defenses and click on something," Amy Abatangle, executive vice president at Untangle, a network security software company, told ABC News.

With Valentine's Day around the corner, Abatangle said many of the phishing scams may try appealing to the "love and lust" factor people feel to trick them into clicking a malware-infested link or handing over their private information.

That could mean an email appearing to be from your bank claiming something is wrong with your credit card -- sparking fear that those flowers won't be sent to your significant other.

"The other things they latch onto are factual alerts, such as from your bank, where you're more willing to think, 'Am I in trouble?'" she said.

Or it could be a simple coupon, requiring a user to click a link to redeem that will instead infect their computer with a virus.

"Behind the scenes it can have a query string attached to it that is not a site being shown in your email client and it could direct you to a place where there can be a malicious payload," she said.

Before opening a suspicious email, Abatangle recommends making sure the email address is valid. If you don't know the sender or believe they don't have a reason to send you an email, do not open it.

The bottom line, Abatangle said: Remember that the cyber criminals are trying to play to your emotions, so keep your guard up.

"Phishing in a nutshell is kind of a human exploit vector, a way to get people to act in a way that they put aside their own best interests," she said.