According to experts, cyber-thieves are preparing malware and spam campaigns in a bid to catch out retailers and shoppers during the run-up to Christmas.
One gang had updated the sophisticated malware it used to target tills in stores, security company iSight said.
There had also been an increase in spam and phishing emails crafted to catch out people seeking bargains.
Some crime groups had made fake copies of popular shopping apps in a bid to steal payment-card data.
The 50 biggest retail brands in the US were now hunting through their internal corporate networks to see if they had been infected by the “highly sophisticated” Modpos malware, said iSight senior director Stephen Ward.
The modular malware could lurk unseen on POS equipment, said Stephen Ward, and sought to scoop up payment-card data during the few moments this information was passed around unencrypted in the memory of computerized tills.
“It’s a Swiss-army knife of sorts that can be used for any type of nefarious activity,” he said.
The Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Center, a US government-backed organization set up to pass on information about threats aimed at retailers, has sent out advice about the “2015 hacking season”.
“Downtime is expensive, but especially so at this time of year,” it said.
“Retail staff is motivated and focused on sales, at the risk of possibly allowing fraudulent transactions or other types of breaches.”
Reacting quickly to threats could be tricky at this time of year, it said, because systems were often “frozen” to limit downtime.
Stephen Ward said iSight had been tracking the gang behind Modpos for some time, but it had now been revamped for the run-up to Christmas.
Traditional anti-virus systems were unlikely to catch the stealthy malware because of the clever way it was built.
iSight had passed on information about telltale signs that would reveal a retailer had been compromised by Modpos.
Anti-fraud company ThreatMetrix said online retailers were also coming under sustained assault from many different hi-tech crime groups.
It said it had seen signs of an increase in fraud campaigns before the main shopping season got under way and expected a “major spike” in such activity in the run-up to Christmas.
In a report, it said attacks against online retailers had already jumped 25% over earlier in the year and it expected the trend to continue.
“Generally, the third quarter is a slower time for businesses as consumers anticipate spending money during the Christmas and New Year shopping season, but this year it yielded record numbers in attack attempts,” said Vanita Pandey, strategy director at ThreatMetrix.
The vast majority of the attacks were attempts to defraud companies by using fake logins or stolen credentials, said Vanita Pandey.
ThreatMetrix had seen evidence of crime groups using botnets, networks of hijacked computers, to batter away at login screens searching for loopholes and bugs.
Experts also urged people to be vigilant and exercise common sense when browsing offers sent via email or other messaging services.
No-one should ever buy anything offered via unsolicited email.