The festive season is rife with fraudsters ready to take advantage of you.
This year, more than ever, people are looking forward to Christmas as a result of a turbulent 2020 but it is the most common time to get ripped off by scammers. Robert Brooker, Head of Fraud and Forensic at PKF, shares the top twelve frauds of Christmas and his tips on how to avoid them. The overriding advice is, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
1. Online shopping fraud
The closure of nonessential shops has meant that more shoppers than ever are shopping online. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement to bag a bargain. Figures from Action Fraud show that criminals conned 17,405 shoppers out of almost £13.5 million over the Christmas period last year, an increase of over 20% when compared to the same period in 2018. This is likely to be even higher in 2020.
Most scams last year involved mobile phones and electronics. Unfortunately, fraudsters know about the amount of money spent online and build fake websites to catch unsuspecting consumers. Many websites are built to look identical to the most famous and well-known brands in order to trick people into spending money, only to receive no goods after sending payment.
Do your due diligence, always shop with official retailers and where possible, use a credit card when shopping online as this will offer more protection if things go wrong.
2. Parcel delivery scams
Fraudsters are taking advantage of the huge increase in online shopping by sending scam text and email messages purporting to be from parcel delivery companies to people who are waiting for parcels to be delivered.
The messages appear to be from couriers like DPD and Royal Mail, stating that they have tried to deliver a parcel and asking you to click a link to reschedule the delivery. The link directs people to an authentic looking website, which asks for full contact details. Upon completion of the form, you are then asked to enter full credit card details.
It is a very convincing scam however to protect yourself, double check the details in the message and confirm it is related to something you have ordered. Does the message use your name, rather than an email address? Does it mention the goods or company you have ordered items from? If in doubt, do not click the link and contact the vendor directly via their website.
3. Ticket/voucher scams
There has been a resurgence in people buying tickets, experiences and vouchers as gifts for something to look forward to in 2021. While the majority of sites are reputable, do your research first.
Only look at tickets from reputable websites that are secure (showing a padlock) and before buying, do a search for reviews on the provider to see if anyone has fallen victim to a ticketing scam. Avoid entering your bank or credit card details on public or shared computers.
4. Charity scams
Charities have been undoubtedly hit hard by the pandemic. As the season of giving gets underway, many people are looking to support local charities which creates new opportunities for scammers. The two most common ways are:
Creating a completely false charity and appealing for donations through a website or donation boxes.
Stealing a legitimate charity’s name and appealing on their behalf, though the real charity will never see your donation.
To make sure your money goes to a genuine charity, check first that it is registered with the Charity Commission.
5. Social media scams
Limit your personal information on social media accounts to prevent your bank accounts being compromised. Remember to protect your personal identity at all times. Also be wary of posting when you are away from home as this is an open invitation for criminals of another kind!
If you click on a social media advert make sure you do the necessary checks before buying anything from the website you land on. It could be a fake account. According to Which, nearly one in 10 people have been scammed by adverts on social media or search engines.
6. E-card viruses
The message may say something along the lines of, ‘Your Aunt has sent you a Christmas E-Card! Click the link to receive her message and gift!’
Once more, the download could be a nasty virus which may leak personal information to criminals.
7. Staying secure online
Use a strong, separate password for your email account and other accounts. Having one password for everything is a recipe for disaster, yet many people do. Criminals can use your email to access other online accounts, such as those you use for online shopping. For further information about how to stay secure online, visit www.cyberaware.gov.uk.
8. Choosing where you shop
If you are making a purchase from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first. Look online for reviews of the website or person you are buying from. If you are purchasing an item from an online marketplace, you can view the seller’s feedback history before going ahead with the purchase.
9. Payment method
Always use a payment method that offers buyer protection, such as a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers will help you get your money back if the item is faulty or damaged, or if it never arrives.
10. Watch out for phishing emails or texts
Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites. If you are unsure, don’t use the link and visit the website directly instead.
11. Identity fraud
Christmas is one the most lucrative times of the year for fraudsters, especially those who commit identity theft. As many as 8% of UK consumers are affected by identity fraud at Christmas time, with 43% saying their identity was stolen while shopping online.
Your personal information is valuable, act now to protect it. Never disclose your PIN or hand over your bank cards to anyone. Your bank will never ask you to give your cards, PINs and personal details. Nor will the police, or HMRC.
12. PayPal fraud
These scams typically target people selling goods via online marketplaces such as eBay, something many people are doing to try to make some extra money for Christmas. The fake emails trick victims into believing they have received payment through PayPal for the items they are selling on the platform. Thinking they have been paid, the seller then sends the item to the criminal.
What to do when things go wrong
Anyone can fall victim to fraud. The important thing is to take action immediately. Contact your bank in the first instance and also report it online to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk.