Twelve online scammers, 11 present stealers, 10 vehicle burglars, nine purse snatchers, eight mall muggers, seven Christmas con men, six bogus bargains, five identity thieves, four phony charities, three suspicious Santas, two sneaky shoplifters — and one Christmas ruined.

With Christmas just around the corner and Santa’s helpers busy at work, the Grinch has also made his holiday debut. While many are filled with the spirit of the season, others are busy searching for ways to prey on their generosity.

To arm Mr. and Mrs. Claus with the knowledge needed to protect themselves from the 12 crooks of Christmas, law enforcement officials and other professionals are offering some words of wisdom to protect families from a holiday nightmare.

Twelve online scammers

McAfee, Inc., an Internet and technology security firm, recently revealed 12 online scams to avoid into the New Year.

No. 1 on McAfee’s list are charity phising scams.

“Hackers take advantage of citizens’ generosity by sending e-mails that appear to be from legitimate charitable organizations,” the firm said in a recent press release. “In reality, they are fake Web sites designed to steal donations, credit card information and the identities of donors.”

No. 2 on the list are fake invoices. With Santa Claus tied up making deliveries, many gift givers rely on package delivery services to spread cheer. Crooks take advantage of the opportunity by sending out fake invoices and delivery notifications that appear to be from reputable companies such as FedEx or UPS.

Once the online request forms are complete, personal information is stolen or malware, software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system, is installed onto the computer.

With Christmas being the most social of holidays, McAfee says cybercriminals often use the guise of social networking sites to prey on the open-hearted by using “New Friend Request” links to infect computers and steal proprietary information, making the false notifications No. 3 on the list.

The No. 4 scam - fake holiday E-Cards - have netted many victims over the years. Last Christmas, McAfee discovered a worm, which spread quickly across computer networks, masked as Hallmark e-cards and holiday shopping promotions.

“Be careful what you click on,” the firm warns.

Bargain shoppers beware, the No. 5 scam targets you. McAfee recently uncovered a new holiday campaign that leads shoppers to malware-ridden sites offering “discounted” luxury gifts from top designers. Cybercriminals even use fraudulent logos to trick shoppers into buying products they never receive.

To again avoid having your identity stolen, the No. 6 warning says identity thieves linger in public places. While users can shop and surf from virtually anywhere, hackers can spy on their activity in an attempt to steal their personal information. McAfee tells users never to shop online from a public computer or on an open Wi-Fi network.

To prevent falling victim to the No. 7 scam, cybershoppers should avoid risky holiday searches. Hackers create fraudulent holiday-related Web sites for people searching for ringtones, wallpapers, Christmas carol lyrics or festive screensavers. Such files may have been created to infect computers with disabling viruses.

The No. 8 scam preys on those already dealing with tough times. With the nation’s high unemployment rate, scammers are preying on desperate job-seekers. The thieves promise high-paying jobs and money-making opportunities, but once the intended victim submits their information and pays the “set-up” fee, hackers steal their money.

The No. 9 scam is auction site fraud. Bidders should beware of auction deals that appear too good to be true since in many cases, such purchases never reach their new owner.

Password stealing scams rings in at No. 10.. McAfee says thieves use low-cost tools to uncover a person’s password and send out malware to record keystrokes. Once criminals have access to passwords, they gain access to consumers’ bank and credit card information and can clean out accounts within minutes.

No. 11 on the list are e-mail banking scams. Cybercriminals trick consumers into divulging their bank details by sending official-looking e-mails from financial institutions. They ask users to confirm their account information, including a user name and password, with a warning that their account will become invalid if they do not comply. Your personal information is then sold to other criminals.

Ransomware scams is the last on the list of potential holiday scams and allow hackers to gain control of consumer’s computers through several scams. Cybercrooks act as virtual kidnappers to hijack computer files and make them unreadable and inaccessible. The scammer then holds the user’s files ransom by demanding payment for their return.

Protecting your property

For area residents dedicated to shopping locally to avoid the potential traps and pitfalls of online transactions and those planning to head to the Metroplex, Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant is offering some tips to help keep families and possessions safe.

He said locking your doors and securing your property should be a year-round practice, but with presents stacked under the Christmas tree and purchases piled in vehicles in unattended parking areas, the precautions are even more necessary.

“Residents need to lock their doors and windows, and if you are going to be gone after sunset, leave the outside lights on,” Bryant said. “It is also important to leave valuables and gifts out of sight. Thieves watch homes, especially this time of year. They pattern what time you leave so they can target your home when nobody is around.”

In addition to securing your property, Bryant said it is also wise to rely on trustworthy neighbors to keep watch when you’re away.

“Let your neighbors know when you’re going to be away from home so they know when nobody is expected to be at your residence,” Bryant said. “If you live out in the county and plan on being away for an extended period of time, you can contact the sheriff’s office to arrange a vacation house watch. We will schedule deputies to go by your home during their routine patrols for added security.”

Finally, with many individuals falling victim to identity thieves, Bryant said citizens should shred their trash to avoid social security numbers, banking and other personal information from falling into the wrong hands.

Plan ahead for a successful shopping spree

Bryant said there are many things to consider when loading up your family for a trip to the Metroplex for seasonal shopping, including developing a strategy for a successful outing. He said those traveling with children should be especially cautious.

“Make sure everyone is easily identifiable, know what they are wearing and try to dress your children so they are easily recognized in a crowd. It is also very important to carry recent photos so if someone gets lost searchers can easily identify them,” Bryant said. “In case you do get separated, have a predetermined meeting location and set times to regroup at regular intervals.”

He also said if your excursion will keep you out after dark, try to park in well lit areas and always park as close to the entrance as possible.

“If you are alone, or in a small group, arrange an escort to your vehicle. Mall security is usually available to help,” Bryant said.

Finally, he said when shopping with youngsters, never let them roam alone. Bryant said with excessive crowds and predators lurking, a quick trip to the restroom or a trek to the toy store can end in disaster.

“The last thing anyone wants is for their celebration to be ruined by crooks and criminals,” Bryant said. “Simple precautions and a little preplanning can go a long way when it comes to having a happy holiday season.”