Be on guard against Christmas scams
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is sounding the alarm about the latest wave of scams which could cause misery to consumers and their families in the run-up to Christmas.
Scammers are always quick to jump on opportunities to exploit people’s vulnerability and this year, with people trying to cope with rising costs, anxieties over household bills and disruption to deliveries and supply chains, the potential for the unwary to fall foul of the fraudsters is greater than ever.
Of particular concern this Christmas is loan fee fraud, in which the victim pays a fee for a loan they never receive. People in need of quick access to cash are particularly vulnerable to this type of scam, and according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)*, the average victim stands to lose £260. With recent National Trading Standards (NTS) research showing that losing just £100 to fraudsters would push one in four adults in the UK into serious financial crisis**, the implications of these types of scam are serious and potentially life-changing. Loan fee fraud scams have increased 21% compared with this period last year, according to the FCA.
People concerned about their finances are also being targeted by scammers posing as representatives of HMRC. Common tactics include recorded phone messages saying that the recipient’s National Insurance details have been compromised, or that they are about to be arrested for non-payment of tax. Consumers who receive these types of call are advised not to reply, and never to share any personal information over the phone. If you are unsure whether a call or email from HMRC is genuine, check the Government website here.
Another organisation which scammers frequently pose as representatives of is online shopping giant Amazon. In attempts to steal people’s personal details, scammers are sending texts, emails and recorded messages claiming that the recipient’s account has been hacked or that their subscription is due for renewal. Amazon users should only ever access its services via official channels such as the iPhone/Android app or the Amazon.co.uk website, and the retailer will never ask customers to give any payment information, including gift cards (or ‘verification cards’) for products or services over the phone.
Online shoppers are also urged to be on the lookout for fake versions of legitimate websites. Scammers can clone sites to look like those of retailers, banks or other organisations in order to steal financial details. Shoppers are advised to look for the padlock symbol next to the website’s URL, check that the website address begins with ‘https’ and check for subtle errors like replacing a zero with a letter in a URL. It’s easy to check who owns a domain too by using sites such as Whois.com. Online reviews of websites and products should also be approached with caution, since they can easily be faked.
Delivery scams are particularly prevalent at this time of year, with many of us ordering goods online as Christmas approaches. With disruption to the postal service and many people unsure when their mail is due to arrive, scammers are likely to capitalise with bogus texts and emails. Common scams include messages that a parcel is awaiting delivery and a fee is due to be paid, or that the recipient should log in to a website to schedule a delivery. In most cases, the messages are merely a ruse to harvest people’s personal data.
Katherine Hart, CTSI Lead Officer, said: “This year people are under a lot of financial pressure, and many will be thinking about ways of making their money stretch further this Christmas. When people are under stress, they are particularly vulnerable to making rash decisions on the spur of the moment. We would urge anyone who receives a phone call, email or text message that claims to be from a company or Government organisation to stop, take a breath, and consider whether or not it is genuine. In many cases, these messages are just cynical scams that could leave you out of pocket.
For consumer advice, please call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.
In addition, to report scams, contact Action Fraud, in Scotland, or contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060, or if in Northern Ireland, call Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.
The public is encouraged to join Friends Against Scams. This is an initiative to protect and prevent people from becoming scam victims by empowering them to take a stand against scams.