Common Christmas-time scams

Christmas is the busiest time of the year; a time when we all spend big in the hope of creating the perfect day with family and friends. Not surprisingly, it is also the busiest time of year for scam artists, who seek to target busy consumers. This article provides a brief summary of common Christmas scams, as identified by victim complaints to the ACCC. You can keep up to date with the various scams on the ACCC website.

Travel scams

A common scam involves spam emails or online advertisements offering flights or accommodation at significant discounts. Common ones occur on social media, in particular Facebook, where hoax social media pages are set up. These scams aim to lure unwitting consumers to illegitimate websites that seek their identification and credit card details.

It is important that consumers verify seemingly generous deals with the relevant airline or accommodation provider, and only provide identification and payment details to reputable companies or their agents.

 Charity scams

Christmas is a time when people give generously to charities and appeals, prompting scammers to impersonate charities online, on the phone or in person. If you are considering giving to charity, approach the charity directly to ensure that the organisation you give to is the genuine one. If you receive a message soliciting a donation, and you choose to respond, only make contact through details from official sources (such as the charity’s website), and never through the details listed on the message.

 Online shopping scams

Many illegitimate websites will offer goods or services (e.g. a gift voucher) at significant discount. These websites will often look genuine, so it’s important to look for small details, like differences in the URL (compared to a genuine site it is mimicking) or spelling errors. Such websites will not only take your money, but may make other unwelcome and illegal uses of your personal information.

 Like-Farming scams

Don’t fall victim to the give away promise scams on social media! The ones where they suggest you like a post and share it with your friends to win a car; share to receive a Bunnings Voucher; or donate money to save a child’s life.

Many social media accounts get set up to farm peoples information and personal details. They may have links to videos, websites, apps, other Facebook pages etc.

Many of these links and posts contain Trojan viruses, lead to identity theft schemes, or at the very least result in your details getting sold on the black market for target attacks or spam.

 Parcel delivery scams

An increasingly common scam that has emerged over the past 18 months is the ‘failed delivery’ scam, where consumers receive a fraudulent email, purporting to be from Australia Post or other courier services. These messages will either request a small payment to facilitate redelivery, or contain an attachment that claims to contain delivery details which, if opened, will install malicious software on your computer. These scams will not only take your money, but also may take control of your computer and deny you access unless you pay an ‘unlocking fee’.  Almost all products bought online or by mail order will include full delivery costs in the upfront payment, so further payment should not be required. It is also important to be vigilant with email attachments, and only open such attachments that are sent from trusted email addresses. 

Telephone scams

A common holiday-time scam is from phone calls from persons claiming to be technical support from Microsoft or an anti-virus software company. The caller will claim that your computer has been infected with a virus, and will seek a payment to ‘fix’ the issue. Scammers will often use this opportunity to lead you to install software that enables them control (and restrict your access to) your computer.

These scammers sound extremely legitimate. Don’t be fooled by someone who does sound like they are genuinely sitting in a call centre from Microsoft, Dell, Telstra or somewhere similar. They can baffle you with strong technical vocabulary.

If you receive an unsolicited call purporting to be from a telecommunications, technology or computing company, you should not provide your personal details under any circumstances. Always hang up, go direct to the suppliers website and ring their public phone number.

Banking Scams

Finally, the one that hurts the most at Christmas when you need funds to celebrate! Banking scams come mostly in the form of an email or a phone call claiming to be from your bank or financial institution. The scammer will usually tell you that your credit card or account has been cancelled because it was involved in criminal activity, or because they suspect your card or details have been stolen. This is a trick to get you to given them your account details.

You may be told that a suspicious transaction has recently occurred on your account, perhaps a large purchase in a foreign country. You will be told that if you did not authorise the transaction, you need to take immediate action as your credit card details have been stolen.

The scammer will ask you to confirm your credit card or account details so the ‘bank’ can ‘investigate’. If you receive an email, it may ask you to visit a website to confirm your credit card details or to find out more information on the supposed ‘fraud’ to your account.

In some variations of this scam, the scammer may already have your credit card number (that they have stolen previously), and may even quote this to you. They will then ask you to confirm that you are the cardholder by telling them the 3 or 4 digit security number printed on the card. If the scammers have this number, they can use your card to buy things over the Internet or phone.

The best way to handle this is to delete the email, or tell the person on the phone that you appreciate the call and you will call your bank shortly as you are busy right now! Then, get on the phone to the bank using the publically listed number.

  Simple tests you do yourself to check the legitimacy of a potential SCAM include:

  • ·      Reading the URL (web address) to ensure it points to the genuine website or social media page.

    ·      Seeing how many fans/likers/followers the page has

    ·      Seeing how long the page has been in existence

    ·      Phone the relevant 1300/13/1800 phone number

    ·      Pay attention to spelling and grammar issues

    ·      Google the special offer or charity or deal and put the word scam on the end and see what you find! 

As you can see, scammers target Christmas because of the unparalleled volume of communications sent and funds spent, meaning that even relatively unsuccessful scams are likely to profit due to volume. However, by using common sense and not sharing details through unsolicited communications, you can go a long way to ensuring that your Christmas remains a happy one.