Thirty-five years ago, an innocuous email landed in the inboxes of many people with a festive greeting. It simply asked people to “... just type Christmas” - and led to a worm virus spreading across computers across the early years of the internet. The worm became the foundations for the rampant ILOVEYOU trojan horse that terrorised inboxes in the 2000s.
As technology and the way we access information has grown, so has the sophisticated nature scammers have managed to con hapless individuals throughout the years. Those online scams become a little more difficult to identify due to automated services from the Royal Mail or HMRC and with industrial action, erratic opening hours and a cost of living crisis.
While many younger family members are happy to extend their help when it comes to detecting a scam, sometimes the sheer sophistication involved can leave even the most cynical of internet users scratching their head and pondering if, on this one particular occasion, it might be real.
Especially when it comes to delivery scams - one of the fastest growing cons that has become especially prevalent due to the reliance on Amazon, Evri and Parcel Force to get those last minute Christmas gifts delivered before Santa Claus finishes off the remaining deliveries over Christmas Eve.
Marijus Briedis, cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, has offered a series of tips to avoid being scammed during one of the busiest retail times of the year as criminals have moved from online scams to text message scams involving missing parcels and tax refunds due, or tax payments owed. He is also one of many to recommend a golden rule when it comes to giveaways and freebies - if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Tips for avoiding scammers over the Christmas period and beyond
Whether it’s the lure of last-minute presents or seasonal sales, 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. 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.
Mail delivery scams
This scam prays on the notion of a last-minute delivery being delayed or additional fees owed ahead of a delivery. 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.
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.
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 January 31 deadline. Yet be careful not to give extra money to opportunistic hackers. Thousands of UK taxpayers have been sent fake HMRC phishing emails and texts during 2022, 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.
Gift Card scams
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, always speak to loved ones on the phone before making transactions you believe they have requested.
Give away grift
Recently a message through WhatsApp making the rounds included a link that gave people 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.
Much like similar scams earlier in the year for British Airways, Heineken and B&Q, this preys on consumers’ faith in brands and love of a freebie. Save WhatApp messaging for your friends and family this year and don’t let a fraud, however sweet, sour your Christmas break.