Don’t let Christmas rush lower your guard to seasonal scammers

A con artist is 'only an email or 'a text away. 'Photograph: PA
A con artist is 'only an email or 'a text away. 'Photograph: PA
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As people rush around in the run-up to Christmas sorting out their to-do lists, now is a prime time for scammers to strike. Many of us can feel distracted, stressed and exhausted by the seemingly never-ending stream of tasks which must be completed.

And when we’re feeling frazzled, or our thoughts are elsewhere, it can be all too easy to click on an email link or say “yes” to something without checking first whether it’s genuine.

Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for, so that a scammer doesn’t ruin your Christmas.

Emails promising
a tax refund

With households’ budgets being particularly under pressure at this time of year, some unexpected news that you’re owed a “refund” may seem like a huge relief. But, remember that with the self-assessment deadline looming on 31 January, fraudsters will be bombarding people’s email inboxes with fake offers of tax refunds. They may also cold call victims, or text or email links which will then take them to a false page, where their bank details or money will be stolen.

Over the past year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has received nearly 900,000 reports from people about suspect contact – including over 620,000 reports from people about bogus tax rebates.

Another tactic used in scams is to threaten victims into handing over money. Criminals will pretend victims have an unpaid tax bill and claim they may be arrested or imprisoned if they don’t pay up.

How to beat the scammers: Remember, don’t give out your personal information or click on links or download information from unexpected emails. If someone calls you out of the blue and makes you feel under pressure, you can always just put the phone down to give yourself time to think. Details of suspect calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC can be forwarded to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599.

Dangerously tempting Christmas shopping offers

Right now, stores are slashing their prices, which could leave some people fearing they may be missing out on a great deal. But in the frenzy to grab a bargain, don’t let your guard down and end up paying for something that’s shoddy, fake or doesn’t exist.

Barclays’ analysis of its own data shows that more than one in 10 (12 per cent) shopping scams result in losses of over £2,000. Some fake goods, such as electrical items, may even turn out to be dangerous.

How to beat the scammers: Barclays, which also has tips for staying safe at barclays.co.uk/digisafe, says if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Before making a purchase, check the product’s reviews and keep an eye on your bank balance so that you can spot and report fraudulent transactions quickly. Never enter your payment or other personal details if you are concerned about a website. Look out for the padlock symbol in the web address to ensure that the link between you and the website owner is secure.

Bogus travel deals

Fraudsters will often cold call people pretending to be from a travel company after the victim has unknowingly entered their personal details on a bogus website. The caller may appear to know the victim has been recently searching online to book flights and, after gaining their trust, will make a tempting offer on flight tickets to lure them into making a payment.

After transferring the money, victims may receive a “confirmation email” but the fraudster then cuts off contact. Victims may only discover they have been conned after contacting the airline.

How to beat the scammers: Action Fraud suggests checking whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as Abta (abta.com). Study terms and conditions and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all. When booking through a holiday club or timeshare, consider having the contract vetted by a solicitor first. Paying by credit card will give you added consumer protections.