Santa says stay scam savvy this holiday season

7 December 2010

SCAMwatch is advising consumers to be particularly cautious this festive season. Scams occur all year round but scammers prey heavily on people’s generosity and vulnerabilities at this time of year. Some scams to watch out for over Christmas include:

1. Holiday scams

End of year holiday makers beware! Whether you are holidaying in Australia or taking a well-earned break overseas, scammers have ways to try separating you from your money and personal details. Recently scammers have begun approaching victims on their holidays, offering expensive memberships to scam travel clubs and fake discount hotel vouchers.

Protect yourself

  • Never provide your credit card details and other personal information to someone you don’t know or trust.
  • Always check travel offers are legitimate before you sign up, search the wording of the offer or the company name on the web-many scams can be identified this way.
  • Never provide your holiday details on social networking sites. Scammers can access your profile and pose as you to send distress messages asking for money from your family and friends.

On the SCAMwatch radar
End of year travel? Don't let scammers take you for a ride
Beware of scam scratchie cards in your letterbox 
Don't tell scammers your holiday plans!

2. Flight booking scams

If you are visiting family over Christmas make sure you book your flights through a legitimate airline, flight booking or travel website, or a travel agent. Scammers set up fake websites to make you believe you are purchasing a genuine flight ticket, but when you arrive at the airport you may find your booking was a fake.

Protect yourself

  • Be cautious when deciding to purchase really cheap airfares – if it looks too good to be true it probably is.
  • Check the ABN quoted on a flight booking website is genuinely registered to the trader named on the website. You can look up an ABN on the Australian Government’s business.gov.au website.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Don’t be grounded by flight booking scams

3. Online shopping scams

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift online? Buying online is often cheaper but if you get caught by a scammer you will not only lose your money but will also never receive the item you thought you purchased! Scammers post fake classified ads, auction listings and run bogus websites for everything from pets and pedigree puppies, to electronic gadgets and gizmos, horse saddles, motor bikes, cars and boats.

Protect yourself

  • Be cautious. If the advertised price of any item online looks too good to be true, it probably is-scam ads quote goods at much lower prices than similar items.
  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or moneygram.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Pedigree pups at prices too good to be true
Scammers target online car buyers

4. Romance scams

Christmas time is a time to share with loved ones.  If you are looking for that special someone online be cautious. Online dating scams are common and victims not only suffer from broken hearts but also lose thousands of dollars. If someone you have met online asks you for money as a result of some misfortune, or to help a sick/injured family member it may be a scam. Scammers will pray on your trust and generosity, especially at this time of year.

Protect yourself

  • Be wary of anyone who you have not personally met who asks you to send them money, gifts or your banking and credit card details.
  • Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Be my Valentine

5. Charity scams

Christmas is a time for giving, and many legitimate charities appeal for donations of money, food, clothing and children’s gifts. Scammers take particular advantage of people’s generosity at this time of year, and may try to camouflage themselves as genuine charities.

Protect yourself

  • Approach charity organisations directly to make a donation or offer support.
  • Don't rely on any phone number or website address given by the person who first called, visited or emailed you. Independently search for the charity name online as many scams can be identified this way.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Charity scams

6. Telephone scams

With many people taking time off work over the Christmas and New Year period, you may find you receive calls at home from telephone scammers.  These scams have been prominent over 2010 with a variety of scam callers claiming that your computer is infected with a virus, offering fake government grants or seeking bank details in order to process a bank fee or tax refund.

Protect yourself

  • Be cautious if you are contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a government department, a business or private organisation requesting personal information or payment for various services or fees. Always independently contact the department before responding using contact details from a trusted source.  If it is a private business or organisation make your own inquiries to see who they really are.
  • Never give out your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Telemarketing scam: your computer has a virus!
Fake grants from a fake government department
Refund scams: ATO taxes and bank fees

7. Weight loss Scams

You may be looking to shed unwanted Christmas kilos over the festive season but watch out for scammers offering ‘miracle’ weight loss pills and potions.  These scams may promise weight loss for little or no effort or may involve unusual or restrictive diets, ‘revolutionary’ exercise or fat-busting devices, or products such as pills, patches, or creams. Also watch out for 'free trials' that may sign you up to unexpected payments.
 
Protect yourself

  • Remember there are no magic pills or safe options for rapid weight loss.
  • Be very careful about offers for medicines, supplements or other treatments: always seek the advice of your health care professional.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Weight loss scams

8. Door-to-door scams

Buying Christmas presents can be a difficult and time consuming process, so what could be more convenient than sellers coming straight to your door?  Be cautious. Whilst some traders are legitimate, scammers also approach their victims this way. If you are scammed, you will not get value for your money and money-back guarantees will turn out to be useless.

Protect yourself

  • If someone comes to your door, ask to see their identification. You do not have to let them in, and they must leave if you ask them to.
  • Do not agree to offers or deals straight away: tell the person that you are not interested or that you want to get some independent advice before making a decision.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Door-to-door and home maintenance scams

9. Visa scams

Have you got family or friends visiting from overseas this Christmas? Don’t let them get caught out by a visa scam. Scammers contact victims out of the blue by post, email, or phone offering a guaranteed visa in return for payments, personal details and identity documents.  They may falsely claim to be a ‘registered provider’ or ‘Australian visa application service’.

Protect yourself

  • Be suspicious if you are contacted about a visa you did not apply for. The Government does not contact people out of the blue offering Visas.
  • Never give or send anyone your original identity documents. Government departments may wish to view your original documents in person or may ask for certified photocopies but should never ask to keep your original documents.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Scammers offer ‘guaranteed’ Australian visas

10. Lottery scams

There are many legitimate lottery jackpots and sweepstakes throughout the Christmas season, however consumers must be wary of lottery scams that may also be circulating during this time of year, especially by mail, email or SMS. Lottery scams will often use the names of legitimate overseas lotteries such as different Spanish lotteries or carry the name of a well known company, event or person. You will usually be asked to pay various ongoing fees to release your winnings but you will lose all the money you pay to the scammers and won’t ever receive anything in return.

Protect yourself

  • If you receive a letter,  email  or SMS out of the blue claiming you have won a lottery which you never entered it is probably a scam – ignore it.
  • If it looks too good to be true it probably is.

On the SCAMwatch radar
Lottery and sweepstake scams