Christmas Fraud & Scams To Look Out For This Year
Christmas is often the busiest time of the year for both consumers and businesses. People tend to be more generous with buying gifts for others and donating to good causes. Unfortunately, there will be criminals who take advantage of this generosity to scam innocent people and commit fraud. Christmas fraud has been increasing dramatically year on year, with millions of pounds lost to scammers. From fake branded goods to non-existent products, there are lots of scams to be wary of this winter. Wise up with this guide.
Online Shopping Scams
Lots of people want to find unique Christmas gifts for friends and family, and end up trusting websites they’ve never heard of before. Fraudsters often set up fake shopping sites and advertise them on social media, offering popular products at cheaper prices than anywhere else. If you attempt to make a purchase, they will simply steal your information and use it for identity theft or to steal more money. The product that you tried to buy is unlikely to materialise. The same applies to auction websites such as eBay. Fraudsters with fake accounts will direct customers to another legitimate-looking site or request a bank transfer, but they will just take your money without providing the product. If they do supply something, it will be poor-quality and not match the description. If you did not pay through PayPal it is unlikely you can get it back.
How to Avoid Online Shopping Scams
- Make online purchases through PayPal or with a credit card so that your payment is protected.
- Never pay by bank transfer or go through to a separate website to enter your information.
- Do not click on unsolicited advertising links, especially if you have not heard of the company.
- Don’t rush into buying something – if the deal seems too good to be true, you should avoid it.
- If the website address bar does not have a padlock symbol, leave the site as it is not safe to use.
- Always search for and read reviews for a product or seller before committing to a purchase.
- Read the terms and conditions on the website regarding payments and refunds before agreeing.
Phishing E-mail Fraud
Over the Christmas season, many people are ordering so many things for delivery that they might lose track. Scammers take advantage of this by sending fake tracking updates and urging the customer to click a link to rearrange delivery. They will often use company logos to make their e-mails seem more legitimate, and fake text messages may even appear in threads with the original company. However, if there are spelling errors or grammatical mistakes, or the contact information is vague, it is likely to be a phishing scam. Do not click unsolicited links or enter your personal information. You run the risk of downloading malware like viruses onto your device or becoming a victim of identity fraud. Always go directly to the site you purchased from and log into your account to track deliveries from there if you are unsure whether e-mails or texts are valid.
How to Avoid Phishing E-mail Fraud
- It is easier than you might think to spoof display names, so always check the sender information too.
- Look out for typos or unprofessional language, as these are not likely to come from an official source.
- Is the message generalised (Dear Customer) or does it address you specifically by name as it should?
- Does the sender provide legitimate contact details for the real company or not bother providing any?
- If you go back through your online activity and confirmation e-mails, does order information match?
Fake Products or Companies
Again, the search for original Christmas gifts can lead people astray online. In the same vein as phishing e-mails, fraudsters often send messages advertising Christmas sales for legitimate retailers that seem like they would be realistic. They will usually include links to access these exclusive sales, which will really gather any information you enter to steal your details for fraudulent purposes. Similarly, some people prefer to send e-cards rather than traditional Christmas cards in the post. Scammers have picked up on this and started sending fake e-cards containing downloads for malware so they can steal your personal data from your device. Some scammers will even hack social media accounts and use their internal messaging services to ask the person’s friends to lend them money for buying Christmas presents, usually playing on emotions.
How to Avoid Fake Products or Companies
- Go directly to retailer websites to check for advertised sales rather than clicking links in e-mails.
- Do not open e-mails from anonymous or unfamiliar accounts, even if they are Christmas e-cards.
- Make sure that you have anti-virus software installed on your device which is definitely up to date.
- Go directly to charity websites if you want to make a donation (and never do so via bank transfer).
- If someone is messaging you on social media uncharacteristically, speak to them via another method to confirm that it is them and to make them aware that their account has been compromised if not.
Missing Mail Theft
Since Christmas is the busiest time of year for postal and courier services, many opportunistic scammers keep their eyes out for deliveries. Thieves can intercept mail by stealing your packages or letters if they are left unattended outside your home. Most couriers allow you to make arrangements for delivery to a safe place or a neighbour if you will not be at home to accept a delivery, so it is important to do this rather than risk leaving your goods on your doorstep. Order invoices can also allow scammers to steal your information. Fraudsters also imitate “missed delivery” cards to make them seem like they come from legitimate delivery services such as Royal Mail. They advertise a phone number or website link for rearranging delivery which really charges a premium rate or harvests information. These cards can look very similar to the real ones.
How to Avoid Mail Theft
- If you live in a communal building, then get a lockable box for your post which requires a key or code.
- Update your mailing address with all companies whenever you move and set up a Royal Mail redirect.
- Arrange alternative delivery options such as a safe place or neighbour who can accept parcels for you.
- Check the tracking for a delivery to see if the information matches what is on a missed delivery card.
- Contact the mailing service directly using methods on their official website if you are not sure about it.
How to Stay Safe from Scams
Even the most cautious people can sometimes fall for scams. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to trick people, so you need to stay vigilant. Follow all of the tips above to avoid falling into a trap set by scammers. It is also generally good advice to avoid accessing sensitive personal data while connected to public Wifi, because then your information will be vulnerable to hackers. Always review your security and privacy settings for your online accounts to make sure nobody else can access them. If you do experience a scam or fall victim to a fraudster, then report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible. You should check your bank account and bank statements regularly to make sure that you recognise all of the transactions. Call the fraud helpline for your bank if you need to report an unauthorised transaction that you don’t recognise (like the NatWest fraud contact number or the HSBC fraud contact number if your account is with these banks).