As millions of people buy last-minute Christmas presents online for their friends and family, many shoppers don’t think about the hidden threat of online scams when they are deciding what to buy.
Criminals lurk online, targeting shoppers with things like fake scams or fake discounts, reeling in customers to think they’ve got a real bargain. But, when it comes to shopping online, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.
According to Action Fraud, tens of thousands of people fell victim to online fraud last festive season. Jordan Jones, Hodge’s retail fraud investigation specialist, has outlined the 12 scams of Christmas and what to do about them so you don’t fall victim to cyber fraudsters.
Have you ever received a text attempting to panic or trick you out of money? This is called ‘smishing’ and this type of fraud works by using cheap technology to send you a text or automated call claiming to be from your bank, an official organisation like the NHS or police.
You might get fake alerts about things like delayed passports, Covid-19 boosters or supposed texts saying that a parcel couldn’t be delivered.
Don’t click on links in texts and report the texts to 7726, the network operator. If you do click on the text and pay money unknowingly, call your bank immediately.
2.Items that don’t exist
When most of us shop online, we tend to head for sites we know and trust. But, sometimes, if you’re looking for something specific and it’s getting harder to source, people do tend to look further and use sites they might not usually. Also, we tend to check less the more we panic and this opens the door to fraudsters advertising ‘in-demand’ items.
If large retailers have run out of stock on items, ask yourself: ‘has the seller really got it?’
Try to use online retailers and brands you trust, look out for dodgy website addresses with spelling mistakes, missing contact details or vague information at the bottom of the website and make sure you have adequate anti-virus software that flags up untrustworthy sites
3. Voucher traps
We all want to spend a little less at Christmas if we can so it’s always lovely to get a discount isn’t it? However, scammers will actively send out phishing emails and publish false websites advertising ‘Discounts and Voucher Codes” to draw you in. However, these websites or emails will often be infected with malware which can infect your computer with viruses.
If you receive any anonymous discounts – ones where you will need to click a link – play it safe and delete the email. Also, use reputable anti-virus product on your laptop, make sure its regularly updated and always turned on
4. Romance scams
Christmas is a time for family and friends but it’s also a time when some people suffer from extreme loneliness. Lonely, vulnerable adults are the perfect prey for scammers who will seek them out by email or social media. They will try and create an emotional bond with the individual over time and eventually ask for some financial support or money to pay for transport so they can meet up.
Always guard your privacy when chatting online and be careful about the information you share about yourself. NEVER send money or give credit card details to anyone you don’t know or trust. Always trust your instincts and if something feels wrong, it probably is.
5. Holiday scams
Many of us are desperate to go on holiday after almost two years of travel chaos, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. With this in mind, financial fraudsters have created websites with tempting holiday packages enticing customers with the promise of bargain prices for luxury breaks.
If flights seem much cheaper, it should ring alarm bells. Airlines tend to set the prices of flights so if they are significantly less, they could be a scam. Always look out for ABTA and ATOL protected holidays and always pay by credit card – if they don’t accept them, steer well clear
6. Online auctions
We all want to get something for nothing and Christmas is the best time to feel like you’ve bagged a bargain. But be aware of online auctions promising the latest iPhone for £500, even if it says it is new in the box or an “unwanted” gift. Bogus sellers are unlikely to have reviews or feedback and will often demand immediate payment, often by paying them direct. Don’t do this – always use recommended methods of payment, like PayPal.
Always research the seller before you commit and remember that, even if there is feedback, it might not be a genuine review. And if you’re collecting something you’ve bought, take someone with you or let someone know where you are going
7. IT support
This is the scam that keeps on giving. Haven’t we all received an email in the past from the likes of Apple or Microsoft stating they’ve detected issues on laptops through maintenance checks? Often, the email will say an expert will be able to log on to your computer to solve the problem remotely for a one-off price. Don’t click on these mails, which are extremely prevalent around Christmas.
As you walk through town ticking off your Christmas shopping list, you will more than likely be approached by a charity worker asking for your support by providing a donation or subscription. While many of these charity workers are genuine, some aren’t and the money is going straight into the wallet of a scammer. If you’re suspicious, ask to see their ID and if it still doesn’t feel right, don’t donate.
We’re all guilty of spending a little too much at Christmas time and when we see offers of ‘unbeatable rates’, 0% finance, and ‘free loans’ it can be very tempting. But authentic loan providers will NEVER ask for an advance fee, so if they do, say no. Also, make sure you research any loan or investment companies online before making any financial commitment and always read the terms and conditions. Never set up a loan or make an investment as a result of a cold call and go to www.fca.org.uk for a list of unauthorised loan firms and top tips to avoid dodgy investments.
We all want to create lovely memories at Christmas but sometimes knowing what to buy a loved one can be hard work. The promise of tickets to a concert or theatre show can be a fab present – but not if you purchase them from a fake site.
Fraudsters often try and sell tickets for events that have already sold out so make sure you only look for tickets from reputable websites that are secure. You’ll know this as they will have a padlock. Also, do some research to see if there have been any particular scams related to the tickets you want to buy and never share your bank or credit card details on public or shared computers.
11. Christmas e-cards
Many people now send Christmas cards via emails but clever cyber-criminals have created their own versions which cause huge problems if you open them. It’s likely the email will contain a virus and, once opened, it will infect your electronic device – without you knowing – and then will collect personal data, financial information, passwords and usernames which can then be used to commit financial fraud.
If you receive an anonymous e-card, don’t open it and delete it and make sure you have a reputable anti-virus malware on your device. If you do think you have fallen foul by clinking on an e-card, try switching it off and disconnect from the internet. Also contact your bank and change your passwords.
12. Mobile malware apps
If you get a smartphone or tablet for Christmas, make sure you have the latest software installed for increased protection because scammers are constantly developing new ways to infect these devices via malicious apps or infected URLs. Only download apps from sites like Google Play and Apple Store and always check ratings and reviews before downloading a new app.