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12 scams of Christmas: what you need to watch out for

The festive season is rife with fraudsters looking to take advantage of us opening our wallets and feeling merry. Here's what to watch out for

As the season of giving (and spending) kicks off, it’s more important than ever to keep your guard up and eyes open for scams.

Some are particularly vicious and others only rear their ugly heads at this time of year – we give you our top tips and advice on how to avoid them.

1. Counterfeit goods

Looking to buy a loved one a present from a well-known brand this Christmas? Stay vigilant for counterfeit goods.

These can range from poorly made t-shirts with rip-off logos to electronics which could break after one use or even be dangerous.

This year, a specialised Europol unit shut down 20,520 websites for illegally trading counterfeit merchandise online.

The Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) says you’re not only risking your personal data when you buy off an illicit website, but you could be risking your health and safety with a potentially dangerous product.

One of the main tell-tale signs is if the product is suspiciously cheap – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Read more: how to tell if something might be counterfeit and how to report fake or counterfeit goods.

2. Charity scams

As the season of giving gets well underway people open their wallets to causes they perhaps mightn’t have at other times during the year, creating new opportunities for scammers.

They tend to operate in two key ways:

  1. By creating a completely bogus charity and appealing for donations through a website or donation boxes.
  2. Misusing a legitimate charity’s name and supposedly appealing on their behalf, but the real charity will never see your donation.

To make sure your money goes to a genuine charity, check that it’s registered with the Charities Commission.

If you’re suspicious of street appeal volunteers, you can ask to see their official charity identification which they’re required to carry.

Read more: how to report a scammer.

3. TV Licensing

Late this year there was a huge surge in the number of people reporting scam TV Licensing refund emails.

The fake emails claim the recipient has overpaid or is owed a refund which hasn’t been paid because TV Licensing has the wrong bank account details.

But these emails are just a ruse to steal bank account and personal details.

Read more: thousands targeted by TV licence refund scam.

4. Sextortion

People targeted by this email scam are threatened with non-existent sensitive videos of themselves and are confronted by their actual password in the first sentence.

This makes it particularly convincing and easier to believe that the scammer has access to your life, so you’re more likely to comply with their demands.

Here’s an example of one of the sextortion emails reported to us.

Watch out for the poor spelling and grammar and the pressure to make a quick decision, both are hallmarks of a scam.

Real sextortion email:
I’m aware, XXXXXX is your password. You don’t know me and you’re probably thinking why you are getting this mail, right?

Well, I actually placed a malware on the adult video clips (porno) web site and guess what, you visited this website to experience fun (you know what I mean).

While you were watching video clips, your internet browser started out working as a RDP (Remote Desktop) with a key logger which gave me access to your display screen as well as web camera.

Just after that, my software program gathered every one of your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook, and email.

What did I do?

I made a double-screen video. First part shows the video you were watching (you have a nice taste omg), and 2nd part displays the recording of your webcam.

Exactly what should you do?

Well, I believe, $2900 is a fair price tag for our little secret. You’ll make the payment by Bitcoin (if you do not know this, search “how to buy bitcoin” in Google).

BTC Address: 1HpXtDRumKRhaFTXXXXXXXXXX

(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)

Important:

You now have one day to make the payment. (I have a special pixel within this email message, and now I know that you have read this e mail).

If I do not receive the BitCoins, I will definately send out your video recording to all of your contacts including close relatives, co-workers, and many others.

Nevertheless, if I receive the payment, I’ll destroy the video immidiately. If you need evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video to your 10 friends.

It is a non-negotiable offer, therefore do not waste my time and yours by responding to this message.

Action Fraud has received more than 3,300 reports of the sextortion fraud this year and some of our members even told us they had threatening follow-up emails.

Read more: what to do if you get the sextortion email.

5. Number spoofing

This year, we’ve noticed an increase in scammers using number spoofing which makes it looks like they’re contacting their victim from a legitimate organisation, either on caller ID or the message sender.

This is known as number spoofing or smishing (SMS phishing).

Scammers are now even able to hijack message chains to make their message look like it’s come from the victim’s bank.

We’ve also recently been made aware of scammers purporting to be from Argos claiming the recipient is due a refund.

The text dropped into a chain of texts from Argos, promising a refund of £247 from an overpayment and a link to follow to supposedly claim the money. But it’s a scam.

We informed Argos about the scam message and a spokesperson said: ‘Customers should always be mindful of phishing scams.

‘This message is not from Argos and we are advising customers to delete it.’

Read more: how the UK’s largest mobile providers will stamp out number spoofing in 2019.

6. Tech support scams

Tech support scams can start with either a phone call, an email or a pop-up message appearing on your computer, stating there is something wrong with your computer or internet connection and that it needs to be fixed.

These types of scam are more likely to catch you off guard if you’re distracted entertaining loved ones or in the middle of baking Christmas treats.

However, there will either be a demand for payment to fix it, or they will install software on the computer which will allow the criminals to access personal and financial details.

In the first half of this year, more than 22,000 victims reported losing £21 million and Action Fraud figures show computer software service fraud is in the top five most reported fraud types.

Read more: how to spot a Microsoft phone scam and what former tech support scammers told us.

7. Impersonation fraud

Fraudsters pose as police, bank staff, government agencies or utility companies and use their position of supposed authority to convince someone to transfer money out of their account or click a dangerous link.

An organisation fraudsters seemingly love to impersonate is the HMRC and we’ve seen cases of them email, message and call people either promising a sizeable tax refund or threaten them with arrest.

Watch our video with two real scam voicemails so you know how to spot an HMRC scam.

Read more: we explain how the HMRC voicemail scam works.

8. Holiday scams

With the cold and dark weather upon us, a lot of us are starting to think about booking a holiday in the sun.

But there are criminals who want to want to exploit your need for some RnR and have set up fake villa websites to try to trick you into paying down-payments or deposits for bogus holiday rentals.

One such scam reported to us this year was the Estate Luxury Home site which had hundreds of listings for holiday villas and appeared totally legitimate.

But the whole site was a scam and one of our members lost thousands of pounds.

Before the site was taken down, we took screenshots of the fake site website and the real villa posted on the legitimate holiday rental site, Villa Plus.

Can you spot the difference?

Read more: how to spot a holiday scam.

9. Romance scams

Looking for love in the new year often leads to a rise in the number of people joining dating sites and apps. But be aware that scammers will be on the prowl.

In the first half of 2018, more than £5 million was lost to romance scams, according to UK Finance figures.

In a romance scam, the victim is convinced to make a payment to a person they have met and believe they are in a relationship with.

The relationship is often developed over a long period and the individual is convinced to make multiple, generally small, payments to the criminal.

They may also glean enough personal information to steal your identity.

Read more: how to stay safe on dating websites and how to get help for loneliness.

10. Bitcoin scams

Fake celebrity endorsements are often used by scammers to make it look like their bogus Bitcoin or cryptocurrency investment is legitimate.

Four of the Dragon’s Den stars – Deborah Meaden, Gavin Duffy, Eleanor McEvoy, and Eamonn Quinn – have all had their photos used in online ads for Bitcoin scams without their permission.

It’s important to know that cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ether, are not regulated in the UK so you’re not likely to get your money back if something goes wrong – even if it was a legitimate investment.

Read more: how to spot a Bitcoin scam.

11. WhatsApp scams

As the festive season bites and savings need to stretch further, you might be looking to save a few pounds on vouchers where you can.

But this is yet another avenue we’ve seen be exploited by scammers – especially on the messaging app WhatsApp where fraudsters try to lure people into handing over their personal data in return for vouchers to big name chains, such as Costa Coffee, Sainsbury’s and JD Sports.

The scams all follow a similar pattern: the message appears to come from a friend with a promise of a high-value voucher to celebrate a landmark birthday if you just follow the link.

A recent one we’ve seen is scammers promising bogus £125 Aldi vouchers to anyone who fills out a short survey to celebrate the supermarket’s 50th birthday.

Read more: find out how the Costa Coffee WhatsApp scam works and how to spot a messaging scam

12. Marketplace scams

Last Christmas, at least 15,000 online shoppers lost £11 million through social media and online marketplaces, such as Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay.

Mobile phones were the most common item fraudsters enticed people with to steal their money – victims told Action Fraud they were hooked in with bargain deals on popular models only for their new phone to never turn up.

Apple iPhones accounted for 74% of the reported scams involving mobiles. Other popular for-sale products which turned out to be scams included Fingerling toys, UGG Boots and Apple MacBook.

Remember to never buy anything by bank transfer unless you know and totally trust the recipient, because you won’t have any protection to get your money back if you pay this way.

And you can’t always trust online customer reviews as the customer could have been persuaded to write something positive in return for a payment or free product.

Read more: how to spot a fake review.

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