The holidays: A time for joy, giving, family and friends. Unfortunately, more than a few tech-savvy Scrooges are ready to spoil the fun and cause damage that can last beyond New Year's Eve.

During the holiday season, you're busier than ever — and, thanks to the need to purchase gifts for others — likely spending a lot more time online. But this is exactly where you can fall into a trap if you're not careful. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself against scams this holiday season and remember year-round.

Social Media Scams

Forbes warns of the dangers associated with purchasing items through an ad that appears on a social media site, such as Facebook. The source points to research that shows Americans have lost more than $2 billion in recent years due to social media scams. In cases such as these, cybercriminals are targeting individuals on platforms where they're already spending significant time, catching up with friends and reading posts. But while shopping via social media links may seem convenient, Forbes advises you to make purchases via brands' actual websites.

Also, be on the lookout for ads that are looking for your engagement. Morgan Stanley states that social surveys that offer gift cards or vouchers are more about obtaining your personal information than spreading holiday cheer. Avoid them, no matter how appealing they may seem.

Finally, fraudsters could resort to any number of additional tactics, from creating fake charity pages to impersonating friends and family to extract money or sensitive information. Stay vigilant, scrutinize unsolicited requests and verify the legitimacy of accounts before engaging in any transactions.

Fake Website Scams

It's common to want to mix it up and not purchase every gift from major websites like Amazon, but a desire to support small and lesser-known businesses could land you in a lot of trouble.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of North Carolina flagged that fake online stores or "lookalike stores" could claim to offer electronics and jewelry at deeply discounted prices. But if the deals seem too good to be true, they should be viewed as red flags.

Scrutinize website URLs, ensure secure payment options and read reviews from other buyers. If you can't track down any reviews — or mentions of this website — stay far away from it.

Phishing Attempts

Cybercriminals often exploit the holiday spirit, sending deceptive emails disguised as shipping notifications, e-cards or exclusive deals. The goal is to trick recipients into divulging sensitive information. Always verify the legitimacy of unexpected emails before clicking any links or providing personal information.

Year-Round Cybersecurity Best Practices

While it's important to stay vigilant during the holidays, nothing is stopping you from being safe all 12 months of the year. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Shop at Trusted Stores: Always look for "https://" in the URL and a padlock symbol in the address bar, indicating a secure connection.

Choose Smart Passwords: Your name and birthday have no place in your password. The goal is to make them a mix of letters, numbers and special characters no cybercriminals could guess. And never reuse them across accounts.

Keep Your Devices Up to Date: Whether you're using a computer or a smartphone, be sure to install those regular software updates — they often include essential security patches that fortify your system against the latest threats.

Whether the holidays or beyond, remember that AFBA is also ready to help you stay safe online. Our financial and legal services can assist you with identity theft protection and other all-too-common threats in this rapidly evolving digital age.