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The 12 Scams of Christmas

John Grennan

It may be the season of goodwill and a time for giving but this Christmas we are asking you to be a bit of a Scrooge and don’t gift your finances or data to potential scammers. Here are some of the most common scams you are likely to experience across email, text message and phone calls. 

 1. The Look-alike Website Scam 

Many scammers create look-alike sites that can mirror the real ones. Double-check the website address before entering any financial or personal information. If the lock symbol isn’t shown beside the URL representing HTTPS, immediately navigate away from the page. HTTPS doesn’t guarantee that a website is legitimate but it’s a red flag if the symbol isn’t present. Watch out for URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words. Also, be aware that many of these sites contain misspelt words and poor grammar.  

 2. The Compromised Account Scams 

You may receive an email, text or even a call claiming that your Amazon, PayPal, Netflix or bank account has been compromised. Never just take any notification that makes such an alarming claim at face value. If you are concerned and feel the notification may be authentic, then contact your provider directly and do not respond to the mail or text. Never click on any links or share personal or financial information. 

 3. The IT Support Scam 

This Scam has been doing the rounds for many years and can be in the form of a phone call or email stating there is something wrong with your computer and needs fixing. They will try to direct you to a bogus website or get you to click on a dodgy link. Companies like Microsoft will NEVER call you directly. 

 4. The Fake Charity Scam 

Criminals often take advantage of fundraising campaigns by charities in the lead up to Christmas. Watch out for fraudsters using a legitimate charity’s name and appealing on their behalf, for a donation. This could be via email, over the phone or at your door. Again, don’t click on links or directly follow the directions of the person on the phone and never reveal any personal or financial information. It’s very easy to confirm directly with the charity if the email, text or phone call is legitimate and if approached face to face, the person representing the charity must have an official charity ID on their person.  

 5. The Phishing Scam 

Many of the scams listed here that relate to emails would fall under the heading of Phishing scams. Phishing scams are when you receive an email from a criminal that is designed with messaging to encourage you to click on a link that will likely take you to a bogus site or directly download malware that infects your machine and breaches your home or company devices and networks. Unless you are 100% certain as to the credibility of the email, do not click on any links.    

 6. The Gift Card Scam 

Gift cards are a popular and convenient way to give a gift. They should also be treated like cash; once they are exchanged, it is unlikely that you are getting your money back. Gift cards are not meant for payments and no legitimate business or organisation will request these as a form of payment. 

 7. The Covid Scam 

Covid scams play on our fears during the pandemic. Victims can be targeted by email, text or direct phone calls. The HSE may contact you but will never ask for financial information. No matter how legitimate an email looks, be extremely cautious about clicking any links and instead go to the HSE website or contact them directly to confirm any information.  

 One interesting anomaly I came across was in regard to the current booster vaccination campaign whereby the HSE sent out text message notifications for booster appointments that were ignored by some receivers, who mistakenly believed them to be scam texts. I am aware of several incidents where appointments were ignored because Samsung phones designated the text as a possible scam. This is likely because of the volume of texts being sent by that number. Check the detail contained in the message and contact the HSE directly if you are unsure if the text is legitimate.  

 8. The Phone Scam 

Scammers call you to discuss a topic then ask you to press a number on your phone keypad to “opt-out” of a survey for example. It will generate extreme charges from which the criminals will profit. Just put the phone down. This is also true of the Missed Call (Wangiri) scam, whereby the criminals will ring your phone but hang up before you answer. You may notice that the number is somewhat similar to your own and you may be tempted to call it back. Beware that if you do, you are likely calling a premium number and will be charged astronomical fees for the call.  

 9. The Prize Notification Scam 

You may receive a letter or a call with the good news; You’ve won a million Euro! You’ve won a fancy car! A free cruise! You just need to pay a fee before your winnings can be delivered.  

 If you didn’t enter, you can’t win.  

 10. The Free Gift Card Scam  

Nothing brings good cheer like the word ‘FREE’. Scammers have been known to take advantage of this weakness by sending bulk phishing emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. If you have received an unsolicited email with gift card offers, do not open it. Instead, mark it as Spam or Junk. However, if you opened the email, do not click on any links. 

 11. The Romance Scams 

Someone with an attractive but fake social media identity lures you into a web of lies with loving messages and promises. They will say anything to gain your trust and access your wallet. If you correspond with this person(s), you can be certain that you are not corresponding with the identity they are portraying.   

 12. The Fake Shipping Notification Scam 

More consumers are making purchases online, there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or download malware onto your device. They may also try to trick people into paying new shipping fees. This is more prevalent now since Brexit with additional custom charges for deliveries to Ireland from the UK. 

 There are any number of scams circulating both on and offline in the lead up to Christmas.  From the traditional IT Support call scams to the raft of Covid-related ones that play on our fears in the current pandemic. With more and more of our gift shopping being carried out online, we need to be even more vigilant than ever.  

Don’t give a scammer, a gift, this Christmas. 

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