Money habits

Scams to watch out for this season

As we all look for deals on gifts in the run-up to Christmas, stay up to date on how scammers are targeting shoppers.

Discounts can be a great way to get a head start on your Christmas shopping, but in the scramble to grab a good deal, it’s easy to get ripped off. So, to help keep you safe, NatWest scams expert Catherine Livesey gives us the lowdown on what to watch out for and how you might be targeted.

The main scams to watch out for are purchase scams. This is where scammers dupe unsuspecting shoppers into buying heavily discounted goods – from games consoles to air fryers – which don’t exist and will never be delivered. Keep an eye out for the following:

On social media

If you’re scrolling on social media, don’t be caught out by ads that take you to fake retailer websites. We noticed a real surge in this type of scam after the collapse of Wilko. Ads popped up all over social media saying that all stock had to go, but shoppers were led to fake sites and none of the goods ordered ever arrived. Not only will your money get taken, but scammers can steal your card details, too.

Through your inbox

If you regularly shop online, you’ll likely receive lots of emails from retailers, but in the run-up to Christmas, you need to be on your guard for phishing. You might get an email boasting huge discounts or telling you that an order you have made has gone wrong. There will then be a link to get the discount or correct your order, but if you click on it, you could end up downloading malware (damaging software) onto your device. Or you could be persuaded to reveal your card or personal details, which will be used in a scam later down the line.

By text or WhatsApp

It’s also important to keep your eye out for ‘smishing’ – scams that come via text message. We see a lot of fake delivery notifications come by text. You’ll be told you’ve missed a fictional delivery and will need to make payment and supply additional information to rearrange.

This information will then be used against you with an impersonation scam. For example, you might get a call a few days later from a fraudster pretending to be from your bank, warning you of fraudulent activity on your account. You’ll be advised to move your money into a new account (run by the fraudsters), and you won’t see it again.

In online marketplaces

Social media sites such as Facebook Marketplace can be a great way for honest people to sell crafts or things they no longer need, but criminals are big fans too. Goods might be fake, stolen or non-existent. 

Be alert for cost-of-living payment scams this autumn

It’s not just payments going out of your account that you need to watch out for, be aware of scammers trying to trick you over payments coming in, too.

Last year saw a rise in energy bill scams, with fraudsters getting people to reveal their bank details so that they could receive a payment. We believe the same tactics will be used this autumn for those expecting the government’s cost-of-living payments.

Please be aware that you do not need to apply for these payments. If you are eligible, you will be paid automatically, as you are with benefits and tax credits. Don’t give anyone your bank details and be alert for any messages (email, text or social media) that ask for them. Find out more about government cost of living support.

How to beat scammers

Worry about scams shouldn’t force you to stop shopping online. If you’re aware of the signs to watch out for, it’s possible to spot them and stay safe.

  • Be careful shopping on online marketplaces and avoid sellers who won’t let you collect goods or inspect them first. If you’re paying upfront, use the site’s recommended payment method and ignore any requests for alternative payment methods
  • A website that accepts debit or credit cards doesn’t guarantee it’s real – and a request to pay by bank transfer is a definite red flag for a scam
  • Be especially wary if you’re being urged to hurry or asked to hand over or verify personal information
  • Always check the URL of the website and make sure the web address in your browser begins with 'https://'. The 's' at the end means it’s a secure connection.
  • Better still, don’t click on any links or pop-up adverts – type the retailer’s web address into a new internet tab yourself
  • If it’s a retailer you aren’t familiar with, look for contact details such as a phone number or head-office address. It’s a good idea to Google customer reviews, too
  • Make the most of the My Security Profile in the Payments hub on NatWest’s Mobile App. Here, you can set controls on your cards, freeze them if you think they have been compromised and find out about the latest scams
  • Download Malwarebytes Premium to provide an additional layer of security to all your devices. The software, worth £49.99, is available free to NatWest customers
  • Finally, if you’re questioning whether something is a scam, it probably is. Trust your gut!

Rachel Lacey

Rachel is a freelance journalist specialising in consumer finance.

Want the tools to protect yourself?

Keep your account safe and learn about the latest scams with My Security Profile in the NatWest app.

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