Beware these cons and scams this Christmas

Ruth Jackson-Kirby outlines some of the worst new scams to watch out for this year

No-one loves a crisis quite like a conman. The scammers have been out in force this year. In 2019, criminals stole more than £1.2bn through scams and fraud, according to UK Finance. This year the figure will be far higher. Scams have soared as criminals take advantage of rising online shopping and more people using internet banking than ever before. 

With millions of us being forced to do our Christmas shopping online this year, fraudsters are targeting the festive deliveries. Scam texts and emails pretending to be from DPD or Royal Mail, saying they have been unable to deliver an item, have proliferated.“They feature a link to a website where the receiver is asked to input their bank card details to pay ‘extra’ postage costs and told [that] if they do nothing their item will be returned to the sender,” says Miles Brignall in The Guardian. 

A few days after you have given your bank details you receive a phone call saying that your bank account has been compromised and you need to move your money into a “secure” account, “which is actually under the criminal’s control”. In the first week of December Action Fraud heard from 35 victims who had lost a total of £103,000 to this particular scam.

Copycat customer services 

Meanwhile, banking customers are being targeted by a call-centre scam, says Harry Brennan in The Daily Telegraph. “When searching online for customer-service phone numbers, people are clicking on Google links to websites they think are those of legitimate companies but are in fact run by criminals”. 

Crooks posing as employees of money-transfer service TransferWise and digital bank Revolut “have tricked victims into handing over six-figure sums by setting up ‘copycat’ websites, running bogus helplines and advertising them via fake Google advertisements”. One Daily Telegraph reader lost £168,000 through a fake TransferWise call centre. Another lost £185,000 to fraudsters pretending to be working for Revolut.

Be careful when looking for a telephone number to call a financial firm. Stick to hunting only on the firm’s own website and don’t trust advertisements you see on Google.

Beware of HMRC-related scams too. The deadline for filing your online tax return is approaching. Phishing scams pretending to come from the taxman have been around for years. You receive a telephone call, email or text message pretending to be from HMRC and encouraging you to hand over your bank details. Now there is a new one doing the rounds, according to consumers’ choice website Which. 

A new tax trick

“The fraudster beat the victim to filing her tax return and initiated a tax refund worth almost £7,000 into another account,” says Danielle Richardson on Which. It started with a text message pretending to be from HMRC saying she was due a tax refund. She clicked on the link and typed in her name, address, NI number and possibly her Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number – the victim can’t remember for sure.

The victim heard nothing more, but when she went to file her tax return in October, she found she couldn’t as someone else had already submitted one in her name and received a £7,000 tax rebate. 

“HMRC will never send email or text notifications regarding tax rebates, refunds or correspondence asking for personal information or payment details,” says Richardson. “If you do receive a message to say you’ve got a rebate, don’t click any links and instead contact HMRC directly to ask if it’s genuine.”

Keep an eye on your children

Finally, keep an eye on what your children are up to. Students are increasingly being targeted to become money mules. “If you’re young, gifted and broke, the ping of a social-media message offering the chance to make ‘same-day cash’ could be tempting,” says Claer Barrett in the Financial Times. But “an offer of easy money can end up as a criminal offence involving money laundering”. Students are told they can be a “transfer agent” or “local representative” for a foreign firm. They are then asked to receive a large sum of money into their bank account and transfer it onto another one, keeping some of the money as a fee. The reality is they are “laundering the proceeds of online fraud” and becoming mules “who allow their bank accounts to be used to pass on the proceeds of organised crime”.

The consequences can be serious, with money mules having their bank accounts frozen and potentially facing up to 14 years in prison if convicted of knowingly using their account for fraud. Even if they avoid prosecution, victims could struggle to open bank accounts or obtain credit in the future. “Talk to your children and younger relatives about the dangers of ‘muling’, the crimes it makes possible and what they should do if it happens to them,” says Barrett.

Where to turn

If you are approached with a get-rich-quick scheme or scam the best thing you can do is report it. You can tell Action Fraud about potential scams online at actionfraud.police.uk. If you receive a message via social media, you should also report it to the platform so they can investigate and potentially block the sender.

“We are urging people not to give a gift to fraudsters this Christmas,” says Katy Worobec, head of economic crime at UK Finance, a trade association for the financial sector, in The Guardian. “Stop and think before parting with your information or money and avoid clicking on links in an email or text message in case it’s a scam.”

If you are cold-called, don’t automatically hand out personal details. Your bank or HMRC will never call asking for private information. If in doubt hang up, wait five minutes then call the firm using a number you have found to check if the call was real.

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