Watch Out for Christmas Scams

As you start scouring online retailers to find the perfect festive gifts, make sure you are aware of common Christmas scams, such as phishing emails and texts, looking to catch you out.

Joel Kempson Published on 09 December 2021. Last updated on 10 December 2021.
Watch Out for Christmas Scams

The festive season can bring a lot of worries. Will you find that perfect gift? Did you buy enough Christmas crackers? Will the dog wear his reindeer antlers?

The last thing you want is the stress and financial worry of being ripped off by fraudsters, but looking out for the most common yuletide scams could help you dodge a potentially serious Christmas disaster.

There are a lot of scams out there this winter including phishing scams, where fraudsters send emails, texts and social media messages with links to try to trick you into sharing your personal details so they can steal your money. But with the right knowledge you can spot dodgy emails, text scams and other tools criminals use to get at your Christmas savings. Don’t make this the season of giving money to fraudsters.

Delivery scams

You have probably already had a few Royal Mail scam texts or suspicious messages purporting to be from courier services, but December is a time to be especially vigilant. This time of year millions of people across the UK are sending packages and receiving online orders, making it a ripe time for fraudsters.

You could get a Royal mail scam text saying you have missed a delivery that needs to be rescheduled, collected or paid for. These texts will usually appear on your phone as being from Royal Mail, but this is actually part of a common trick used by fraudsters to mimic legitimate communication from couriers.

The messages will often include a fraudulent link for you to pay a fee or give your bank details. You should also watch out for Royal Mail scam emails that take a similar approach. Royal Mail outlines what these might look like on its website.

The theme of these fraudulent messages can vary depending on the season or what’s in the news. For example, around Christmas you can expect more frequent Royal Mail scam texts or emails linked to gift deliveries. As legitimate delivery issues increase over the festive period, you can expect a flurry of efforts to extort your bank details.

The best practice is to not click on links in texts or emails. If you have missed a package from Royal Mail, you can visit its website and input the details from a card you should have received through your letterbox. If your Royal Mail scam email or text tells you that you need to pay a fee, contact the company to find out if this is a legitimate issue. Do not reply to any suspicious texts or emails.

Sadly, Royal Mail is not the only postal service used in this scam. You also could get parcel delivery scam text from couriers such as DPD, Hermes and DHL.

Online shopping

As Christmas gets closer, you might be struggling to find the right present. But if everywhere seems to be sold out of that perfect gift, it may be a good idea to think of an alternative present, or consider a gift card or giving cash, rather than buying from a website you have never heard of. If it seems too good to be true... it probably is. If major retailers have sold out of a particular item, it is unlikely that an obscure or suspicious website would be able to find some stock.

If in doubt, everyone needs socks.

» MORE: Tips to avoid falling for online fraud

As a back-up, your debit or credit card can provide protection from issues you might encounter shopping online. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act protects your money if you spend over £100 (but less than £30,000) on a credit card. If you do not receive the item, you should not have to pay your credit card provider. Read our dedicated guide to find out more about this protection.

» MORE: Section 75 protection explained

If you pay with a debit card, you might also get some protection. Chargeback, which also covers credit cards, is a voluntary scheme for card providers that protects your purchases in a similar way to Section 75. If what you purchased never arrives or is faulty, you should be able to get your money back. Currently, American Express, Maestro, MasterCard and Visa are all part of the scheme.

» MORE: How Chargeback protects your debit card purchases

eBay scams

Selling unwanted items on auction or resale sites can be a popular way to generate some extra cash for the holidays, but be aware of potential pitfalls.

There are a number of common eBay scams used by fraudsters to target users and get around the auction site’s money back rules. Some of these tricks are used in Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree scams too.

It is always important to check if the product you are buying from eBay is refundable, in case the item is faulty or not what was advertised. There are some types of products eBay does not refund, including travel tickets and vouchers. These loopholes mean a seller could take your money on a non-refundable item, and you might not be able to get your money back even if the item is faulty.

Another common eBay scam affects the seller, rather than the buyer. Fraudulent buyers may offer to overpay for an item in exchange for using a payment method such as a cheque. By the time the seller finds out the cheque is worthless, the buyer already has the product and their profile has disappeared.

Be careful not to hand over a product you are selling if you have not been paid, and watch out for a buyer arriving to collect an item but refusing to pay the agreed amount. Or as a buyer, you could encounter sellers who increase the price of a product when you arrive to collect it.

To avoid these sorts of issues, try to only use eBay to buy or sell products protected through their money back scheme. Make payments through secure services such as PayPal, rather than relying on bank transfers.

Social media scams

Don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Many online adverts, such as those part of Facebook scams, show in-demand products or items from well-known companies but do not link to legitimate websites. Scammers can create fake Facebook profiles and pay to advertise on other users’ feeds. Watch out for new accounts seemingly linked to long-established businesses. If in doubt, go to that company’s website directly.

Other Facebook scams work by convincing you to click on a link, which then shares your personal information and reposts the link in your name. You should also therefore be suspicious of any posts from friends or family that encourage you to click on a link, as they could have fallen victim to this type of Facebook scam.

PayPal scams

Emails from Paypal are a common sight for most online shoppers around Christmas time. Spotting a fake one can be tricky, but there are a few key points to remember.

A legitimate PayPal email will not ask you for your bank details, password or any similarly sensitive information. PayPal correspondence will also never ask you to install software, click a download link or contain an attachment.

Be aware that although emails from PayPal will always be from Paypal.com, scammers can easily fake a similar name to appear on their emails. Make sure to check the exact email address the message has come from.

You should not follow links from these emails. If you have any doubts, log into your PayPal account through your browser and check for messages there.

» MORE: How to spot and avoid PayPal scams

What to do if you are the victim of a scam

If you believe that you have been the victim of a scam, you should first contact your bank or credit card provider. Even if money has already left your account, your bank may still be able to recover it. Use the phone number on the back of your card to get in touch with them. If someone who claims to be from your bank contacts you, hang up and call the number on the back of your card. It is common for fraudsters to convincingly impersonate a victim’s bank, so be vigilant. Remember that your bank will never ask for your PIN or passwords over the phone.

If you are unable to recover money you have lost through your bank, you can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service for impartial adjudication.

You can report a scam to the police by contacting Action Fraud on 03001232040, or through its website. If you receive a suspicious email that you think may be part of a phishing scam, you should also report it. You can report suspicious text messages by forwarding them to 7726.

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Joel Kempson is a personal finance expert and writer at NerdWallet. He has previously written for Money.co.uk and Uswitch, as well as being quoted in the Daily Express, The Mirror and The Sun. Read more

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