Together with James Walker, CEO of consumer data action service Rightly, we identify and explore twelve common scams that pop up at Christmas and explain what consumers should look out for.
Online shopping fraud
Often, through hype and stories in the media, a particular gift becomes the ‘must-have’ present for that year. In the past, it has been the latest PlayStation, or one year it was the Woody doll from Toy Story that no one could find for love nor money in the run-up to Christmas.
The scam occurs when scammers present fake websites claiming to sell the essential gift. The demand for a particular gift is a gift itself to scammers. Customers can’t believe their luck – they’ve found the perfect present and the kids will be super-excited. They pay for the gift. It never arrives.
Always remember, if it looks too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. If you see something that seems this way, it should set off alarm bells, not just jingle bells.
Christmas delivery scams
Naturally, Christmas is a time when the deliveries start flying. Sadly, the scammers know this too and are waiting to cash in.
There are many varieties of this scam. One from the Post Office, for example, asks you to pay a fee and provide some personal information so that a parcel can be delivered. Then, scammers use the information to contact you, maybe by phone, to convince you that they are really from the company. One thing leads to another and, eventually, they’ve emptied your bank account.
Keep ahead of the scammers. If you get a message like this, ask yourself “am I expecting a parcel?”. At this time of year, you may well be, but always remember, neither the Post Office nor any major courier company will ever ask you to enter personal data via a text message – they just wouldn’t do that. So you can assume if you have a message like this, it’s a scam.
If you want to check on a delivery, go direct to the seller’s website, or the real courier company directly, not by clicking on a link you’ve been sent.
Bogus gift cards
Many people give gift cards at Christmas. Scammers put up authentic-looking cards online that turn out to be worthless. Always make sure you navigate to an official website for gift cards.
At first sight, if you receive an unexpected package from Amazon, it might not appear too serious. But it could be an indication that your personal information has been compromised. Unexpected packages arriving like this are sometimes part of a kind of scam called ‘Brushing’.
It’s done to create false sales figures and false reviews of products in order to boost sales. The reviews get posted in your name – hence the indication that your personal information, including your address, is in the possession of scammers. That could lead to other scams and even identity theft.
It’s great to get a Christmas message from a loved one or a long-lost friend. But beware of e-greetings during the holiday season.
You might receive an e-greeting that looks like it’s come from a friend. But if it’s a fake, such messages can contain malware, designed to steal your personal information, including account details.
It’s good to be wary of unsolicited emails, especially if they look like they’re a gift. If you don’t recognise the email address, the chances are it’s spam. If the message does appear to come from someone you know, contact them and check whether they have sent you a gift. Never click on a link in an unexpected message.
Christmas is always a time of feasting and, now more than ever, everyone is watching the cost. Scammers know this and have been blasting out a ton of emails offering discounts and vouchers with the big supermarkets to help save on some of the Christmas cost. But the vouchers are fake and the scammers are using them as bait to capture more personal data.
Again, this is an example of something that is too good to be true. If that’s what it looks like, just delete the message and report it to Action Fraud.
Christmas loan scams
With the cost of living crisis biting hard on many people’s budgets, Christmas will strain budgets. Unscrupulous credit businesses and scammers cash in, and worst of all they target the most vulnerable. The scam can emerge in a number of ways. It can be via a text message or a cold-call. The scammers offer unsecured loans, and those who accept can be charged large, up-front fees and then find there is no loan and their debt is even worse.
With this scam, you get a message suggesting you paid too much for a Christmas gift and that you’re entitled to a refund. But beware – this is all about phishing for your personal data including bank details.
If you haven’t bought anything from the site in question, then it can be easy to spot the scam and just delete the message. But either way, don’t click on any links. Instead, navigate to the real website and look at your account or order record.
Website scams and fakes
Spoofing well-known websites is an old scammer trick. And at Christmas they continue to do it. They tend to focus on big, premium and sought-after brands, for example Nike or Beats, creating a website that looks remarkably like the real thing. But check the url carefully and you’ll see it’s not the real thing.
The bait may well be an email with an amazing-sounding offer and a link to the fake site.
Often the scammers will “bait” you through emails that promise amazing offers but ones that are going to expire unless you grab a bargain immediately.
Always avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails. Instead, use your web browser to find the company’s official website if you’re genuinely interested in a deal and see whether it exists there.
The ‘celebrity-endorsed’ scam
Celebrities are often used to encourage certain actions, including investing in crypto-currency for example. People often used in fake endorsements include Martin Lewis the money-saving expert, and the breakfast TV duo Philip Scholfield and Holly Willoughby who are the most impersonated celebrities in the UK.
We’re all cutting back on spending this year, but inevitably we spend more at Christmas than most other times of the year. And so we might expect a call from our bank checking in on our spending. But the scam is that the call is a scammer pretending to be your bank and they call to say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity.
They get you to share some personal information, your account number, a password and even walk through setting up some new security details. It all sounds like it makes sense. Until you realise they now have access to your account and clean you out.
Always remember, your bank will never just make an unsolicited call to you. If in doubt, hang up and call back on a number you know to be correct. Don’t use any number or link the caller gives you.
Holiday periods mean travel plans and scammers have a variety of ways to try and part you from your money. Some scams involve messages about refunding your holiday, particularly if a holiday firm has been reported as going out of business. Of course, you’ll know if you booked a holiday with a particular company and you can soon find out if they really are in trouble.
Many scams start with a hacker getting hold of your personal information through a data breach. Your data can get bought and sold on the dark web and a scammer can build a profile of you using data from different places. To prevent them doing this, it’s good to take a look at your own digital footprint – that records where you’ve been online and the data trail that leaves behind.
If scammers can’t get your data then there is less chance that they’ll come after you in a scam. You can get your data deleted from any company that doesn’t need it by using a company such as Rightly Protect. If your data’s not there, a hacker can’t steal it.