Revealed: the 12 scams of Christmas, and how to avoid them
To help protect people this Christmas, HSBC UK is sharing some of the techniques that scammers may use to get their hands on your hard-earned cash and guidance on how to avoid becoming a victim of a scam.
David Callington, HSBC UK’s Head of Fraud, said: “Scammers are devious criminals who use a wide range of techniques and scenarios to steal money from you. Letting your guard down in the run-up to Christmas could take the shine off your festivities, and can have an immediate and much longer-term impact on your finances.
“Scammers will be using the distractions of the Christmas period to try and steal your cash. While we all want to have a magical time, follow some simple steps to make sure you don’t fall under their spell.”
Here are the 12 Scams of Christmas that may be circulated by scammers:
Scam #1: Purchase scams – The most common type of scam in recent times. Scammers will use national or local online selling pages to trap people looking for Christmas bargains, and will try and trick you into paying for items that don’t exist. The item won’t arrive and your money is lost. Higher value scams involving the purchase of fictitious campervans or motorhomes are also on the rise.
Scam #2: Delivery scams – Buying Christmas presents online may be convenient but it leaves you at risk of scams where criminals send fake text messages and emails claiming to be from a delivery company. They say they tried to deliver a parcel to you and ask you to click on a link to find out more or rearrange delivery by sharing personal credentials. Don’t click on the link or input personal details.
Scam #3: ‘Hi mum / Hi dad’ Scams – Criminals pose as loved ones and send messages out of the blue, often pretending to be children asking for money urgently. “Hi mum. I lost my phone at the work Christmas party and have a new number…can you delete my old one and save this one.” Is how they might start. While some phones will get lost or broken at a work Christmas party, messages like this are likely to be fake. Ask them to WhatsApp a voicenote or call you so you can verify their voice as a bare minimum.
Scam #4: Cost of Living scams (Council Tax & Energy Rebate)
With the cost of living and energy usage during the cold snap going up, people are more mindful on the cost. Criminals are still pretending to be from the likes of the government or UK energy regulator Ofgem. They’re sending mails and texts that contain links to websites, asking you to give personal and financial details to claim funds. Council tax rebates are paid directly to your bank account and any discounts to energy bills will be made automatically by your energy supplier. Don’t reply or input any details to these emails or texts. There’s no need to apply for a rebate.
Scam #5: Safe Account scams
Making the most of people being busy and distracted at Christmas, criminals may claim your account has been compromised and try and trick you into sending money to a ‘safe account’ that’s been opened for you. There’s no legitimate reason you will be asked to move money to a ‘safe account’. Don’t do it.
Scam #6: Cryptocurrency scams
Experimenting this Christmas by dipping your toe into the world of Cryptocurrency can lead to you investing in more than you bargained for. Fraudsters are capitalising on the growing excitement around cryptocurrency, by asking you to move money and offering fake investments. Before making any investment, make sure you understand what you are investing in, always research the company and check they’re regulated and authorised by the FCA. If you do invest, never allow anyone access to your Crypto wallet.
Scam #7: Romance scams
Buying something for your loved ones at Christmas is a natural way of showing your appreciation, but if you have a purely online relationship be careful as it might be a scammer that exploits your emotions. Fraudsters set up fake profiles on dating websites, apps and social media. They try to appeal to your compassionate side and then ask for money for an emergency situation or for a gift especially at Christmas and for supposed birthdays.
Scam #8: Digital Wallet scams
Spending time at home this Christmas might mean you aren’t spending on your digital wallets. Watch out for unexpected messages this Christmas about your digital wallet, especially if you haven’t used it recently. Fraudsters are impersonating banks by sending texts saying there’s a problem with your digital wallet, or it’s been suspended or blocked. They’ll ask you to enter your personal details via a link, which they’ll use to access your accounts.
Scam #9: New Payee scams
Don’t let the distractions of Christmas make you fall for this age-old scam. Some customers have received bogus text messages claiming a new payment has been made via the HSBC UK Mobile Banking app. They were then asked to validate their bank details by following a link to a fake website in the text message, which led them to losing money.
Scam #10: Coronavirus scams
The continued circulation and new cases of Covid-19 over the Christmas and New Year period present risks of fraud and scams. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, fraudsters have tried to use it an opportunity for financial crime. They’re still doing this by posing as trusted organisations like the NHS, banks and even the World Health Organisation through emails and SMS messages.
Scam #11: Holiday Scams
Christmas and New Year often makes people think of planning an overseas break. If you are booking a holiday for 2023, be warned that a website, advert, email, social media post or text promising a great holiday could be a scam. Either the holiday doesn’t exist – or it does exist, but it’s being sold to you by a criminal. Spend time over Christmas doing your research.
Scam #12: Invoice and Mandate Scams
When paying an invoice or a mandate to a genuine recipient, and you receive notification the account details have changed, have the presence of mind to check the new details. In an invoice or mandate scam, the victim attempts to pay an invoice to a legitimate payee, but the criminal intervenes to convince the victim to redirect the payment to an account they control. It includes criminals targeting consumers posing as conveyancing solicitors, builders and other tradespeople, or targeting businesses posing as a supplier, and claiming that the bank account details have changed. This type of fraud often involves the criminal either intercepting emails or compromising an email account.
HSBC UK has recently updated and expanded its free Fraud and Cyber Awareness mobile app to provide additional protection to customers. The re-vamped app is available to download by everyone, whether they are customers or not, or use Android or iOS platforms, and reveals the most common ways fraudsters are scamming people out of thousands of pounds and how customers can spot their tricks.
David Callington added: “Encouraging someone to download our Fraud and Cyber Awareness app won’t cost you a penny, but the real-time warnings and scam alerts could save people thousands of pounds in the long-run.”
How to shop safely online:
There’s no shortage of trustworthy retailers online, but it’s all too easy to fall victim to scams. No matter what you’re buying, it’s important to make sure you’re protected. There are a number of ways to help keep yourself safe when shopping online. You can:
- avoid clicking on links and visit the website directly instead;
- check the returns policy and that the company has contact information;
- check if the website has been reviewed on a review site;
- make sure your connection is secure (look for a padlock icon in the search bar) and research online retailers to check authenticity and make sure their website is safe and genuine;
- avoid shopping on public unsecured WiFi;
- make sure your antivirus protection and operating system, such as Windows, Android or iOS, is up to date;
- make sure you’re using a genuine and up-to-date web browser, as they often have tools to identify hoax or spoof websites;
- create strong passwords and use a different one for each website that asks for your personal or financial information;
- avoid giving out personal information unnecessarily; and
- stay alert and focused to help you spot a website or offer that doesn’t seem right.
Find out more about protecting yourself from scams by reading our fraud guide, or how to bank safely in our cyber security guide.
If a seller is putting pressure on you to buy something and you haven’t seen the goods yet, this may be a scam. Fraudsters can trick you into making a decision before you have time to think it through. Try talking to a family member or friend for a second opinion. If you’ve given any personal information or payment details, contact your bank who will be able to help.
How to pay safely when shopping online
Different websites will offer different ways to pay. Think about which payment method works best for you.
Paying by debit card
Using a debit card to buy your goods may be useful if you’re working to a budget. You’ll be spending money directly from your current account – meaning you won’t be charged interest, as long as you’re not using your overdraft. However, if you’re using a debit card, you may not be protected in the same way you are when using a credit card.
Paying by credit card
Paying by credit card can offer more protection on what you buy. If the item you’re buying costs between £100 and £30,000 and you’re paying by credit card, even partially, it may be protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
If you’re using a credit card for your Christmas shopping, the key thing is to keep track of how much you’re spending and make a plan for how and when you’ll pay it off. Avoid the temptation to overspend on a credit card, as it could leave you in debt and you may be charged interest if you’re not able to pay it off in full each month.
Paying using a third party provider
If you’re using a third party provider such as PayPal, make sure you’ve read the terms and conditions to see what protection you have for what you’re buying. These may differ between provider too, so it’s important to know this.
Some third party providers like PayPal, Klarna, Clearpay and Laybuy also offer ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) schemes. These allow you to spread the cost of what you’re buying over a set number of instalments, which are often interest-free. Remember, BNPL is a form of borrowing that you’ll need to pay back, so it’s important you can afford the repayments. You could be charged for late or missed payments, which can harm your credit score.
Paying by bank transfer
If a seller asks you to pay for something by bank transfer, this may be a scam. You should be very suspicious and avoid paying for online goods in this way.
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