Christmas is coming – and with it comes the prime time for scammers to steal money from unsuspecting victims. Consumer rights expert Martyn James of Resolver explains how to keep safe
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Christmas 2021 is already proving to be quite stressful with people worrying about getting their hands on gifts and the trimmings for Christmas dinner.
The good news is with a little advance planning – and managing the kids expectations a little – Christmas can still go ahead as normal.
But where there’s shoppers, there’s scammers – and the fraudsters come out in force over the festive season.
Here are the latest Christmas scams to watch out for and some tips on what to do if you think you’ve been tricked.
See more on the latest scams news here.
Fake delivery texts
Most people will have received a few dodgy texts from fraudsters attempting to panic or trick them in to transferring money.
This type of fraud – called ‘smishing’ – works by using relatively cheap technology to send you a text or automated call, purporting to be from your bank, an official organisation or the police.
Fraudsters are incredibly adaptable though, so we can expect to receive fake alerts about things in the news (delayed passports, benefit payments or driving licences) or Christmas cons like texts telling you a parcel couldn’t be delivered.
This scam was endemic last year and works by sending you to a fake website where you enter in personal details that are used to create a fake identity or steal your passwords.
Items that don’t exist
Many Christmas cons work by using bait. And this year, given the scarcity of everything from toys to turkeys, there’s a lot of bait out there.
When we go online shopping, we tend to start with the shops we know and trust. But as time ticks on and it becomes harder to find the items we want, people tend to cast their nets wider.
We also tend to check less the more we panic. This opens the door for fraudsters advertising ‘in-demand’ items.
Look for weird website addresses, missing contact details and vague legal information at the bottom of the website.
Ask yourself: how has this seller managed to get large quantities of something the big shops have run out of? Be cynical.
Social media scams
I’ve seen so many complaints about social media scam adverts over the last few years it’s shocking.
Businesses advertising on social media aren’t often scrutinised that heavily by the website. They’re often based in other countries where consumer rights rules are more lax.
Most of these firms stay just on the right side of legal by actually sending you ‘the goods’ you buy (to not do so is outright theft). But what you get isn’t always what you pay for.
I’ve seen dolls house furniture sent instead of real furniture, a photo of an iPhone instead of, erm, an iPhone and incredibly cheap versions of clothes that don’t even remotely match the picture.
You can complain through your card provider about these cons – but you’ll have to return the goods even if they are rubbish.
Subscription and voucher traps
While you’re browsing online you might find that there are a few special offers available, like signing up for some free beauty products, or links to get discounts from retailers.
Often these offers are ‘subscription traps’. These sites take your details and after the ‘free’ period ends’ start to charge you for goods or services that you didn’t want or authorise.
These charges are monthly and you may not even have noticed the money leaving your account at all.
Subscription traps that send you low quality goods for large prices are usually from firms based abroad and are often outright cons.
Membership services like discounts and voucher offers are sometimes legitimate businesses but still charge you a membership fee each month to get the ‘offers’.
Ask yourself before you sign up to anything – why does the firm need my card number if the goods are free?
Missing mate scam
It’s not that hard for scammers to seize control over people’s emails. This allows them to target people with specific types of fraud – because they have access to all that person’s email addresses.
Asking for money outright does happen (usually people stuck abroad needing urgent help) but in the main, these innocuous looking emails are designed to get you to click on a link that contains malware that in turn infects your computer.
So if an old schoolfriend sends you a ‘round robin’ email out of the blue, don’t click on it without pausing for thought.
Make sure you have anti-virus software loaded on your computer or phone and you are running regular checks.
Let’s finish with a classic. In the last few weeks I’ve seen a few people on the high street running auction fraud scams.
This is where a man with a megaphone drums up a crowd with very OTT banter about the huge discounts for things like perfume. The sales patter drags on for ages and the crowd gets drawn in.
The real perfume is displayed prominently. You bid and pay for items in a bag but when you open it… either the items aren’t the same or are cheap copies.
That’s because you actually bid for the bag , not the perfume that you thought you were buying. This ancient scam works by using stooges who are ‘thrilled’ when they get the chance to put their first bid in.
The same stooges can ‘encourage’ angry shoppers to back off. Report this to the police if you get stung – it’s an out and out scam.
What can I do if I’ve been ripped off?
There’s no foolproof solution to avoiding fraud, but there are things you can do:
- Try to pay by credit card first then debit card as both allow you to ‘charge back’ money if goods or services are not provided. You may also be able to claim back from your credit card provider if there’s a problem.
- Never click on a link in a text or email. Always search for the legitimate website then contact the business to check if the message you’ve received is legitimate.
- If you’ve transferred money, contact your bank as soon as possible and ask them to recall the money. You have a tight window to do this so act quickly.
- Don’t make any online purchases before checking where the firm is based and how you’d contact them if there was a problem.
- Check out online review sites before purchasing to get a feel for how other people have found their experience.
Resolver has helped almost one million people sort out a problem in the last year for free. Get in touch here: www.resolver.co.uk