WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- It's something that, by now, many of us probably take for granted: opening email and clicking online links. But during this holiday season, that simple routine may put you at risk.
We've come a long way from the early days of email, when scams were a bit easier to spot: any message from someone claiming to be an African prince wanting to blindly give you millions of dollars once you gave him your bank account information was an obvious no-no.
But, today, experts say each and every email and many links should be treated as a possible threat, especially during the holiday season.
How can you tell if it really is safe to open and if the link inside it do not pose a threat?
"Often you can't," said Mark Rasch, a technology and cyber law attorney in Bethesda. "Even if you look at a website and it comes from what you think is your bank, and it says click here and it says 'mybank.com,' and it looks legitimate. If you click there it will take you to a site that looks like your bank."
While you're at that site, any personal information you've previously entered on that computer could be stolen. This sort of crime is called phishing. Hackers will send infected emails with links, ads or online holiday greeting cards.
Once you click on anything in the email, a virus is installed onto your computer without you knowing. Now, hackers have access to anything on your computer, including and personal or financial information that you enter.
"What happens this time of year is people -- whenever there's an event that will trigger you to click on something, that's most likely when you're going to see these types of attacks. Avoid things that say black friday special that you didn't expect," said Rasch.
Even items that seem to be sent from people you know -- family, friends, colleagues -- can be risky.
"[Hackers] can harvest their address book and then they'll send it out from their email address," said Rasch.
Experts advise you to always be suspicious of emails and links, verify requests for personal information, be wary of attachments and animated greeting cards, when accessing a website avoid the link and instead manually type the address and always monitor your financial and credit information.
And because it's a crime that is always evolving, Rasch said, "Even if you do all the right things you may get attacked."
Even more reason to always stay vigilant.