The Scam That Stole Christmas - Popular Scams To Watch Out For This Festive Season

Ofcom research has found that 45 million people received at least one fraudulent message in the last three months alone - here’s how you can avoid attacks this Christmas

By Hannah Connolly

17 December 2021

is’ the season of goodwill - or so the saying goes - and though the general public may be feeling more giving than usual, the festivities might mean our guard is down to malicious intentions.

Scams are on the rise. In the last three months alone, Ofcom has reported that 45 million people in the UK have received a scam message. Given the UK has a population of just over 66 million this report is significant in the aggressive wave of targeted attacks.

In October, the home secretary Priti Patel said she would not “tolerate criminals lining their pockets at the expense of law-abiding citizens”. As such, the government’s Joint Fraud Taskforce has been relaunched with the aim of protecting the public.

The Stack breaks down some common scams, whilst offering some solutions to keep yourself safe this Christmas…

On the first day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me... “The Forgotten Password or Verification Scam”

As we close our laptops and shutdown computers, passwords may slip our minds. With a wave of verification and forgotten password reset emails flooding through it is easy to take these messages at face value. However, often this is used to access your email account to send further phishing emails to your contacts.

How to avoid:

If you receive an email of this nature (most commonly this comes through as accounts posing as Microsoft) check the email of the sender closely, it should not have any first names or excessive use of numbers for example.

A good precaution, rather than clicking on links within the email, is to log into your account as normal and check your security logs yourself. If nothing has been flagged once logged in it is very likely that the email is fraudulent.

On the second day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me... “Fake Invoice Scams”

Ahead of Christmas and New Year there may be a flurry of invoices to pay, but fake invoice scams are particularly worrying, pertaining to business owners and usually appear in much the same way as any other invoices from real freelancers or employees.

How to avoid:

These emails tend to have time pressures attached to them and may say that the due date has passed for the payment or threaten non-payment may affect credit ratings so it is important to be mindful.

This is a more sophisticated scam in terms of detectability, the best practice is to cross reference all invoices with your team so that unknown names can be flagged, reported and deleted.

On the third day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me ...“The Wifi Scam”

On the move this festive season?Joining public wifi networks can also be a literal hotspot for fraudulent and malicious activity and bears consideration before joining.

Scammers may set up networks that look legit but actually leaves you vulnerable to data breaches. This also comes in the guise of traffic ‘eavesdroppers’, who monitor your traffic, interrupting data transfers, whilst posing as a legitimate participant.

How to avoid:

If you ever find yourself in doubt in a public space double check with staff wherever you are for the correct name and the security of their network. If you receive the message “do you want to share your files with other devices on the network?” then make sure to pay attention and say no.

Turn off automatic wifi connection, though usually you will auto connect to genuine networks, turning off auto means you have a step between you and potentially malicious intent. For iPhones, head to the Wifi settings page and turn to “ask” this means before connection is made you will be told which options are available.

As a general rule do not conduct sensitive work or actions whilst on public wifi and save this type of usage for trusted places e.g. work or home.

On the fourth day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me ...“The Guard Down Scam”

It may be a time of festivities for the majority of us but scammers know no Christmas cheer and may go out of their way to exploit the season of goodwill. Especially with a lot of us taking to online shopping, there will be a surge of malicious emails masquerading as vouchers, basket reminders and offers.

How to avoid:

Be mindful of the emails you are receiving and if you don't remember signing up to store offers then it may well be a scam. It is important even over the Christmas period to be vigilant and aware of the emails in your inbox.

On the fifth day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me… "The Round Robin Scam"

Robins are a ubiquitous symbol of Christmas time but a less festive iteration is the round robin email, this usually appears through the guise of a friend you may have gone to school with or an ex colleague. They are usually demanding help or connection in some way and can hold malicious intent.

How to avoid:

This is a quite old hat style scam however, during the festive season as many of us look to connect with people we haven't seen for a while, both pre and during the pandemic, we may be more susceptible to taking messages to reconnect at face value.

Keep an eye on any sort of requests for cash over email, and question the validity of the identity of the person reaching out to you - if you don't recognise the name check in with friends to see if the name rings a bell but don't email the account back or click on any links. If the person does truly know you and is looking to connect they will most likely try to contact you through another medium if their intentions are genuine.

On the sixth day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me … "The Best Price Scam"

No doubt Christmas is an expensive time of the year. We are all on the lookout for an offer or a bargain and though trawling the web for a bargain can seem to save you money it may cost you a lot of stress if the site turns out to be malicious.

How to avoid:

The advice for this one is fairly straight forward… if it seems too good to be true it probably is. If the price seems way lower than elsewhere, avoid and always check the payment options for sites you are not familiar with as good practice - ATOL protection is an important indicator of validity.

On the seventh day of Christmas, fraudsters tried on me … "The Royal Mail Scam"

The Royal Mail Scam has swept through the UK of late. Texts as well as emails contacting you about a parcel that has missed you, or that requires more information for delivery. If you shop online frequently this is a scam that is very easy to fall victim to and bears some caution.

How to avoid:

Best practice to avoid this scam is to keep a mental note of what is on the way to you across the coming months. If you are waiting on a parcel, returning to the site you purchased from is the safest option as you will be able to check in and track orders from within the site of purchase.

The Short Stack

The Stack takes a closer look at the scams that could catch you out this Christmas and how to avoid them...

By Hannah Connolly

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