Christmas shoppers targeted by seasonal scams

By Emma Lunn

With Christmas shoppers (and their wallets) out in force, so are seasonal scammers. Here are some new -- and tried-and-true -- scams to watch out for.

Unexpected gifts
This scam has been around for several years and comes in the guise of an unexpected gift delivered to your home. A "courier" arrives, delivering a gift of flowers or wine. The courier claims he has to take a small delivery fee from the recipient -- and that the payment can be made by only credit or debit card.

However, the machine used to take payments clones the card, and money is later stolen from the cardholder's account.

Too good to be true
Free money can be hard to turn down this time of year. Yet supermarket Asda has warned people to beware of an email that's been circulating since October telling recipients they have won an Asda gift card worth between £50 and £1,000. Christmas-scams

Recipients are asked to click a link, and when they do, they're redirected to an "offers" page, which then asks for personal details. These details are later sold to marketers, leaving people inundated with junk mail and letters -- but no free Asda gift card.

Fake websites
If you're shopping online, it pays to take a few minutes to check to make sure the retailer is genuine. Some sites that appear near the top of search engine results for popular Christmas gifts sell counterfeit goods, while others won't send you anything at all in return for your money.

"If you want to avoid one of the few websites that sells counterfeit goods, then there are a few tell-tale signs to look out for," says Ben Reynolds, co-founder of TheRankTank.com, which compiles top-selling products in the UK.

First of all, the website may not be registered in the country that it says or implies it is, Reynolds says. To find out if the company is telling the truth, paste the company's website address into a search facility (such as http://whois.domaintools.com/).

As well as checking where websites are registered, think about how they are asking for payment -- some methods offer more protection than others.

"Use a credit card when making purchases online, says Doriena Koldenhof of the Payments Council. "Don't transfer money, send a cheque or cash. Using a credit card or debit card gives you additional protection you wouldn't get when you make a [money] transfer."

Plus, Koldenhof says, make sure the website is secure before you enter card details. If a site is secure, you'll see "https" instead of "http" in the address bar.

Charity scams
Shopping isn't the only reason people open their wallets during the festive season -- it's a time of year when people are particularly motivated to give to those less fortunate. Thieves know that, so be wary of charity scams. Before donating to any charity, look for a registered charity number or check the Charity Commission website to confirm the charity is genuine.

Loan scams
If Christmas shopping has left you short of cash, don't fall for a loan scammer. There are plenty of legitimate short-term loan companies out there -- but, if you get an unsolicited letter or email from a loan company, that's a red flag, according to consumer advocacy group Which?

The email or letter will often ask victims for personal information and invite them to apply for a loan -- which requires sending in an application fee.

After the fee's been paid, borrowers often find the loan they're trying to arrange doesn't arrive. If it does, it may well be for less than originally agreed and subject to high interest rates and other fees and charges. In some cases, there's a particularly nasty twist, according to Which?. The "customer service" number the company supplies is a premium-rate number, meaning victims will be charged when they attempt to contact the company.

If you need to borrow money, seek out a legitimate lender rather than answering an advert or replying to an email.

See related: New credit card scam preys on victims' caution, Stealing from children: Thieves prey on kids' identities

Published: 13 December 2012