As people rush around in the run-up to Christmas, now is a prime time for scammers to strike.
When we’re frazzled, or our thoughts are elsewhere, it’s easy to click on an email link or say “yes” to something without checking whether it’s genuine.
Scammers know this.
Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for…
Emails promising a tax refund
With household budgets under pressure, some unexpected news that you’re owed a “refund” may seem like a relief. But remember that, with the self-assessment deadline looming on January 31, fraudsters will be bombarding email inboxes with fake offers of tax refunds. They may also cold-call victims, or text or email links that will take them to a false page, where their bank details or money will be stolen.
Over the past year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) received 900,000 reports about suspect contact – including more than 620,000 reports from people about bogus tax rebates.
As well as offering non-existent cash, another tactic 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.
Remember, don’t give out personal information or click on links or download information from unexpected emails. If someone calls out of the blue and makes you feel under pressure, you can always put the phone down to give yourself time to think. Details of suspect calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or texted to 60599.
Dangerously tempting offers
Right now, stores are slashing prices, which could leave people fearing they may be missing out on a great deal if they don’t hand over their card details quickly. But, 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 12% of shopping scams result in losses of more than £2,000.
Barclays 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 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 the link between you and the website owner is secure.
Bogus Christmas travel deals
Ahead of the great Christmas getaway, Action Fraud is warning people to watch out for fraudulent travel websites and cold calls.
Fraudsters will phone 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 too-good-to-be-true 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.
Action Fraud suggests checking whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as Abta. Also, check the small print. Study terms and conditions and be 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. And think twice if you’re asked to pay directly into a private individual’s bank account.