The countdown to the holiday season can be a bit chaotic. It’s easy to get distracted when so much is going on (and needs organising). Sadly, scammers love the season of goodwill – and ruthlessly exploit any opportunity to get their hands on your cash or personal details.
So here’s my latest rundown of the seasonal scams doing the rounds right now. The best way to fight back against the fraudsters is to share this information. Forewarned is forearmed…
Post and delivery texts
Easily the most common and effective scam doing the rounds at the moment is the fake postal delivery company message. The scam works because most of us are expecting a parcel or two at this time of year. The text or email says your parcel could not be delivered and invites you to follow a link. You’ll them be asked to either pay a minor post charge (giving away your bank details) or enter a few personal details (after which the information is used to crack any online accounts you have.
Worried about getting a booster appointment? There’s a really convincing Covid text message at the moment that asks you to click a link and go through to a super convincing NHS website. Only this site asks you for more personal details and sometimes bank account information. This is rather frustrating because on this occasion the NHS really might text you and ask you to click a link to book your booster. Go through the NHS app or website instead if you get any message inviting you for your jab – and watch out for scams that try to charge you for your vaccine passport too.
The round robin / missing mate scam
It’s not that hard for scammers to seize control over people’s emails. This allows them to target people with specific types of fraud – because they have access to all that person’s email addresses. Asking for money outright by fraudsters does happen (usually pretending to be people you know stuck abroad and needing urgent help) but in the main, these innocuous looking emails are designed to get you to click on a link that contains malware that in turn infects your computer. So if an old schoolfriend sends you a ‘round robin’ email out of the blue, don’t click on it without pausing for thought. Make sure you have anti-virus software loaded on your computer or phone and you are running regular checks.
Depressingly, December and January are peak season for house thieves. This is because we are more likely to have high value items lying around the house or under the tree – and (in non-lockdown conditions) we’re more likely to be away from home. Take sensible precautions before and after Christmas. Don’t leave valuables lying around or in plain sight. Speak to your home and contents insurer and see if you can increase cover for the festive season. Oh, and if you got lucky and Santa brought you pricy presents, add them to the insurance asap.
Subscription and voucher traps
While you’re browsing online you might find that there are a few special offers available, like signing up for some free beauty products, or links to get discounts from retailers. Often these offers are ‘subscription traps. These sites take your details and after the ‘free’ period ends’ start to charge you for goods or services that you didn’t want or authorise. These charges are monthly and you may not even have noticed the money leaving your account at all. Subscription traps that send you low quality goods for large prices are usually from firms based abroad and are often outright cons. Ask yourself before you sign up to anything – why does the firm need my card number if the goods are free?
The most important rule to remember is never to enter any information into websites reached by clicking links in texts or emails. Always assume the message is dodgy and log in to the official website instead. And never hand over you bank or card details.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.