KIS Bridging Loans
Presented by KIS Finance
Holiday Scams to Watch Out For   – Christmas 2020

Online scams have been rife this year; particularly because of the Coronavirus pandemic as scammers have been taking full advantage of a shared global issue.

Now that we’re coming up to Christmas, a time of year that’s already notorious for scams, it’s important to be aware of all the different ways that you could be targeted throughout the festive season.

Online Shopping Scams

Online shopping related scams are always particularly rampant at this time of year, but with more and more people turning to online shopping this year because of the pandemic, these scams are only going to get worse, so you need to know how to spot them.  

Fake shopping websites

Scammers set up bogus shopping websites which either sell products that are very poor quality or unsafe, or products that are entirely fake and will never be delivered. They usually advertise their websites on social media and use pictures of sought after products at much lower prices in order to attract customers. They will also send out links to their websites via phishing emails or text messages.

Once you’re on the website and try to purchase an item, your personal information and bank details will be stored by the scammer and they will use them to steal money or commit further crimes such as identity theft. You will then receive a knock-off version of the item you’ve ordered, something entirely different, or you won’t receive anything at all.

You won’t be able to contact the website about your order as they don’t have any legitimate customer service teams or contact details.

How to protect yourself
  • Before you perform any transactions online, make sure that you check whether the website is safe and secure. Check that there’s a green padlock at the start of the URL and that it also starts with HTTPS. This means that any details entered on the site are protected. Read our article for more information on how to check if a website is safe.

  • Only pay for items online with a credit card, debit card or a well-known secure payments service like PayPal. Paying via these methods will mean that you should be able to get your money back if the worst were to happen. Never pay for anything online via bank transfer, which scammers may ask you to do, as this has very minimal protection.

  • Never click on links that have been given to you within unsolicited emails or messages. If you want to go to a website then go to your search engine and type it in there.

  • If you haven’t heard of the website before then look for reviews on genuine, independent review sites like Trust Pilot. Don’t look at any reviews displayed on the shopping website itself as these can easily be faked.

  • Make sure you always have your wits about you and apply some common sense when you’re shopping online. If a particular product is the same price on lots of genuine retailers, but then it’s massively reduced on a site that you’ve never heard of before then it’s probably too good to be true.

Phishing emails

Most retailers that have an online store will contact their customers via email to promote sales and to give updates on orders and refunds. This is where scammers like to take advantage and trick customers into believing that their emails have come from genuine retailers.

They will usually choose to spoof the bigger retailers as they’ll have more chance of catching people that actually shop there so are more likely to believe that an email is genuine.  

Common subjects of online shopping related phishing emails include:
  • Problems with delivery – Scammers pose as genuine retailers or couriers and send out emails which say that there’s been a problem with delivery on your order. They will send you a link and ask you to update your personal details and address so they can ‘re-send’ your parcel or rearrange the delivery time. The link will either download viruses or malware onto your device, or the scammers will use your details to steal your identity. By impersonating a big retailer, for example Amazon who have millions of customers, they are likely to catch a lot of people who are genuinely waiting for an order to arrive.

  • Promotions and sales – As retailers email their customers to advertise promotions and sales, which are everywhere at this time of year, scammers take full advantage of this. They will either use it to take you over to their fake version of the website which has been designed to steal your details, or it will download malicious viruses onto your device once you’ve clicked on the link to ‘access the sale’. Scammers can easily spoof retailers’ email addresses, and if the retailer that they’re copying has already sent these emails out to their customers then they can simply just copy the contents.
How to protect yourself
  • Never click on links sent to you within unsolicited emails. If you are interested in the proposed sale or promotion, or you are concerned about your order, then go to the retailer’s website through your search engine to either shop or check the status of your order.

  • Check the email for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. If an email is badly worded or it’s full of errors, then this is a tell-tale sign of a phishing email.

  • Legitimate retailers will usually address their customers by name – especially if it’s regarding your order or if you hold an account with them. Phishing emails are usually generalised and will start with ‘Dear Customer’ or ‘Hello (email address)’.

  • Check the sender’s email address by hovering over it with your mouse, or you can usually click on something like ‘sender’s details’ if you’re on your phone. This will tell you exactly what email address it has come from as the display name can easily be faked. You can usually tell if the email address looks suspicious, but if you’re unsure, then go to the retailer’s website from your search engine and have a look at their contact details.

Auction website scams

A lot of online shopping scams also occur through auction websites like eBay, and sites where people can set up their own shops like Etsy and Notonthehighstreet.

It’s more common for buyers to be targeted in these types of scams, but there’s been a surge this year in scammers targeting sellers too by imitating PayPal.

Buyer scams

In order to scam buyers, scammers set up fake profiles and advertise products that don’t exist, or products that are of poor quality or unsafe. Once they’ve attracted a buyer then they persuade them to go to another website to complete payment. This other website is designed to steal your bank details and it also means that your payment won’t be protected as it wasn’t performed through the genuine website. Once you’ve made your payment then the scammer will disappear with your details and you’ll either receive nothing, or something completely different to what you thought you ordered.

How to protect yourself as a buyer
  • Make sure you read the seller’s reviews before making any purchases. If they don’t have any reviews and it looks like they’ve only just set up, then it’s probably worth giving them a wide birth for now until you can see if they’re genuine or not.

  • Never go onto a separate site to make payment. Sites like eBay and Etsy allow you to complete the transaction without having to leave their website and your payment will be secure this way. If a seller asks you to pay by bank transfer then refuse immediately.

Seller scams

This year there has been a surge in criminals sending phishing emails to online sellers, imitating PayPal, to try and fool them into believing that they’ve received payment for an item that they’re selling online. This is an attempt to trick the seller into sending them the item – so not only will the seller have not received payment; they will no longer have the item either.

How to protect yourself as a seller
  • Every time you get an email which appears to be from PayPal, don’t click on any links in the email but instead go to your internet browser and log-in to PayPal from there. Once you’ve logged in you will be able to see all of your transactions and payments so you can check whether you’ve genuinely received a payment before sending the item.
  • A genuine email from PayPal will address you with your first and last name, or your business name. If the email starts with anything else then this is a tell-tale sign that it’s a scam. You should also check the email for any grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes as this is another sign of a phishing email.

  • PayPal will never ask you for any sensitive information, bank details, or for your log-in details – especially not over email.

Fake Loan Scams

Christmas is expensive and some people turn to credit cards and loans to cover the additional festive costs. This reliance on credit is also expected to increase this year with a lot of peoples’ incomes having been affected by the pandemic.

This is where scammers like to take advantage at this time of year by promoting fake loans. They may advertise on social media, but they’ll usually contact people via phishing emails. They will advertise ‘fast loans’ and guarantee that the money will be in your bank account within the same day. They will also try to attract victims with very low interest rates, flexible terms and a ‘no credit check’ application process.

Once you’ve gotten in contact with them about the offer, they will inform you of a small set up fee which you have to pay in advance of receiving the loan. They will usually ask for this via a bank transfer.  If you agree to this and pay the fee then the fraudster will disappear with the money and you’ll never be able to contact them again.

How to protect yourself
  • Before you consider taking out any financial product, make sure that the firm is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. This means that the firm has to follow certain regulations and you’ll be protected if anything goes wrong. If you’re unsure about a company that you’ve seen then you can check this by using the Financial Services Register on the FCA website. Do not take out a loan with a company that is not authorised and regulated.
  • Never pay a person or company that you don’t know via bank transfer. If you do this, you will have little or no protection as you authorised the payment. They will also put a lot of pressure on you to pay the fee quickly which genuine lenders would never do.

Social Media Scams

Social media is a great way to connect with family, friends, and business. But it’s also a great way for scammers to target victims.

Gift exchange scams

This is a scam that comes around every Christmas and there’s no exception this year. These gift exchange scams, sometimes known as ‘secret sister’, seem honest and a nice way to connect with people over the holidays, but they are actually similar to a type of pyramid scheme where people can only benefit from them as long as someone else is being ripped off.

The scam works by being shared on Facebook, with those who have joined the group being asked to share it to their friends. Once you’ve joined, you will be given a list of people and asked to send the top person on the list a gift worth about £10. Once that person has received a gift, then their name will be removed. Your name will be added to the bottom of the list, so the idea is that you send one gift, but you should receive a lot back while other people are moving through the list. Group sizes tend to be around 36 people, so you’re told that you’ll send one gift but receive around 35 back – an offer that sounds too good to be true (because it is).

As the group grows, so will the number of gifts, so you will be encouraged to share it to as many people as possible. If you join right at the beginning of the group, you may actually do quite well out of it and receive genuine gifts in return from the people who joined straight after you. But as the group grows, then it becomes mathematically impossible for everyone to benefit. So even if you do well, this is only because other people are being ripped off by sending gifts and then never receiving anything in return.

How to protect yourself
  • There are genuine gift exchange groups on Facebook that are trying to just spread a bit of holiday spirit and bring people together; but just to be safe, it’s better not to join any of these groups if it’s with people that you don’t know. If you do want to do something like this, then maybe set something up with your family and friends instead.

Fake message scams

Scammers hack into genuine users’ accounts as a way of contacting people to scam them out of their money.

Once they’ve hacked into someone’s account and gained access to their friends, they will send out a message to as many of them as possible and ask for money. They’ll plead poverty and say that they’ve really been struggling financially (which wouldn’t be hard to believe this year) and ask if you can lend them a small amount of money to either buy Christmas gifts, pay off debts, or something else of this nature. They’ll give you their bank details to perform a bank transfer. Once you’ve sent them the money then they’ll disappear without a trace.

How to protect yourself
  • If you receive this kind of message from a friend, you may want to help but you must think about it logically first. Is this a close friend of yours? When was the last time you spoke to them? And is this the sort of thing that they would come to you about?

  • If this is a close friend that you speak to a lot, have a look at the way the message is worded to see if it sounds like them. If you’re unsure, then give them a call or send them a message on another platform.

  • Scammers will be very demanding and refuse to speak to you over the phone or video chat. This is a tell-tale sign that you’re not speaking to who you think you are.

Charity Scams

A lot of charities, especially smaller and less well-known ones, have received far fewer donations this year because of the pandemic and the financial issues that it’s caused for a lot of people. So over Christmas, which is usually a time for charities to try and seek more donations, we’re expecting to see a rise in charity appeals.

A lot of charities also now use websites and social media to raise awareness for what they’re doing and to try and raise money. Whilst this is a great way to get noticed, it’s also a great way for scammers to get in on the action too. 

Scammers can either set up entirely fake charities or set up fake pages and websites for charities already established, both of which they’ll share across social media. They may also spread awareness for their ‘charity’ via phishing emails and text messages. They will encourage as many people as possible to donate, but the money raised will go straight to the scammer’s bank account.

How to protect yourself
  • If you’ve seen a charity online which you want to donate to, then go to your search engine and find the charity’s official website that way. Never click on links which have been sent to you via email or that you’ve seen in adverts on social media sites.

  • When you’re on a charity’s website check the URL to make sure that it starts with HTTPS and that there’s a green padlock at the start of it. This means that any payments you make or details that you enter on the website are protected.

  • Never send money via bank transfer to a company or person that you don’t know. If the charity doesn’t offer the option of paying by card or through a secure service like PayPal then don’t donate. Your money won’t be protected if you pay via bank transfer.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you think you’ve been targeted with any of the scams mentioned in this article, then make sure you report it to Action Fraud immediately. If you think you’ve sent money to a scammer, then you should also contact your bank as soon as possible as they may be able to recover your money.

Reporting scams and spreading fraud awareness is the only way to get ahead of the scammers.


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