Christmas scams UK 2023: 5 cyber frauds to watch out for this festive season

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Cyber scammers and holiday hackers will be out in full force this festive season - here’s five frauds to look out for and how to stay vigilant

With Christmas on the horizon, millions of Brits will soon be scouring the internet, buying presents for loved ones. Amid the festivities, it can be easy to let your guard down online and it is a lucrative time of the year for cyber criminals who are finding new ways to defraud you.

Holiday season hackers use sophisticated methods to lure their victims — from Christmas phishing emails and spoofed websites to bogus giveaways — so it’s important to know what to look out for. Marijus Briedis, cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, has some tips to protect yourself from the scammers over Christmas and the new year.

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Here’s a few scams to watch out for this Christmas and how to stay vigilant online this festive season.

Fake sites and malicious pop-up ads

The lure of last-minute presents and seasonal sales mean online shoppers will be out in force this Christmas. In your hurry to bag a bargain make sure you check your cybersecurity to stay ahead of the hackers.

Avoid the temptation to click on pop-up ads or links to websites that you cannot verify. Use a search engine to find the retailer you want and activate antivirus software to check for any malicious sites.

In the case of well-known retailers it pays to be wary of “typosquatters” who may have set up fake sites under similar names to try to trap unsuspecting visitors.

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Delivery fraud

In recent years, the rise in Royal Mail strikes and surge in parcels being delivered over December have created a perfect storm for delivery scams to thrive. Typically, would-be victims will either be sent an email or text giving them an order number and tracking link for an outstanding package or missed delivery. Once you have clicked, a hacker knows your contact details and may use this to supplement the scam, for example, by asking for a delivery charge.

While scams can be tricky to recognise there are always things you can look out for and steps you can take to protect yourself from falling foul to a scammer. Photo: AdobeStockWhile scams can be tricky to recognise there are always things you can look out for and steps you can take to protect yourself from falling foul to a scammer. Photo: AdobeStock
While scams can be tricky to recognise there are always things you can look out for and steps you can take to protect yourself from falling foul to a scammer. Photo: AdobeStock

If you have received a message with a tracking link, do not click on it and cross-check any code with the delivery company’s website. Any suspicious texts should be forwarded to 7726, a free spam-reporting service provided by phone operators.

Gift card scam

When it comes to picking a present for a hard-to-buy-for relative, online vouchers and e-gift cards are the new book tokens. It therefore might not be a surprise to receive a retailer voucher by email around Christmas, something hackers know only too well.

As well as links to fake vouchers that could contain malware, fraudsters may often trick people into buying genuine coupons and revealing their unique card numbers by posing as family members. To steer clear of these scams, be sure to verify any voucher offer on email with the relevant retailer’s website and always speak to loved ones on the phone before making transactions you believe they have requested.

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HRMC phishing email

The Christmas and new year break is a popular time to tackle online chores and some Brits will be using it as a window to submit their self-assessment tax returns to HMRC ahead of the 31st January deadline. Yet be careful not to give extra money to opportunistic hackers.

Thousands of UK taxpayers have been known to receive HMRC phishing emails and texts with messages ranging from tax rebate offers to threats of arrest. If you have to file a self-assessment return, be wary of any communications you receive as you are much more likely to be targeted by hackers.

Keep an eye out for any HMRC copycat websites and remember that tax rebates in your favour are not common outside a game of Monopoly. 

Christmas giveaway scams

Without sounding like Scrooge, anything that seems too good to be true probably is — and this can definitely be said for a flurry of Christmas giveaway frauds.

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Examples include the Cadbury Whatsapp scam which involved victims being sent a message through the messenger app including a link that will give you the chance to win a ”Christmas Chocolate Magic Basket”. Once clicked the link takes you to a quiz that encourages you to give away your personal data and then share the quiz with others.

The scam preys on consumers’ faith in brands and love of a freebie. Save WhatsApp messaging for your friends and family this year and don’t let a fraud, however sweet, sour your Christmas break.

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