Six common Christmas cyber-scams to watch out for

Cybercrime experts have issued a warning to consumers and small businesses, urging them to stay vigilant in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

This time last year, online shoppers in the UK lost over £10 million pounds to cyber criminals, according to the NCSC (data from November 2022 and January 2023). So the team of cyber experts and Police partners at the NEBRC are encouraging people to take preventative actions to avoid falling victim to cyber criminals this festive season. 

However, Rebecca Chapman, CEO and director at The Business Resilience Centre for the North East (NEBRC) and retired Police Superintendent warns that it isn’t just consumers who need to be alert during the festive season. Businesses are also targets, with the average annual cost of cybercrime for business victims being approximately £15,300.

Rebecca notes that increased footfall, website traffic and sales in the lead up to Christmas and the subsequent sales make even small businesses a high value target for cyber criminals. Stretched teams of staff can create vulnerabilities, exposing employees, employers and customers to threats.

Six common Christmas cyber-scams to watch out for

Scams are becoming increasingly convincing, with technology such as AI and language processing tools being used by criminals. The NEBRC often see similar scams during each festive season, from fake charity donation links to emails and texts from senders posing as delivery companies.

Being vigilant with what you are opening, clicking and sharing online is the best way to prevent falling victim. As is greater awareness of the kind of scams that you may be exposed to. And with that in mind, here are six seasonal scams to watch out for.

1) Phishing and smishing scams 

Phishing and smishing scams includes emails and texts which have links designed to either extort or allow ransomware in. To avoid clicking on a these, always check who the message is from. If you don’t recognise it, report it and block it. 

2) Charity scams 

This type of threat is particularly prevalent as the nation tends to be in a giving mood at Christmas. Criminals will create links to fake websites for donations which can look extremely convincing.

When donating, always check for the charity number and give only via official channels on the charity website. Also, watch out for MLM distributors ‘raising money’ for charity.

3) Remote access scams 

Keep an eye out for someone contacting you, saying they are your IT support. Threat actors may try asking for access to your devices via pop up or text however,  real IT support team members would not contact you in this way.

They would call or email and you can always check by calling the number you have stored from your official documents and contact with them previously. Or even just looking on your support provider’s website to double check you are speaking with the right people. 

4) Fake companies accessed via social media 

It can be tempting to click on product links or businesses on social media whilst scrolling, however fake companies can and do target victims this way. They play on the impulsive nature of social media. Always check the company name in a recognised search engine to establish if they are real or not. Check the reviews and customer interactions to see if they do what they say they do.

5) Cost of living scams

Cost of living scams includes scams relating to grants or loans, fuel vouchers, supermarket offers, energy rebates or fake investments. Victims are tricked into clicking on links which allow ransomware or extract personal information by offering discounts or financial support, playing on an individual’s struggles.

For any communications like this, stop and think, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Check it out with the originator, not the link or sender in the emails.

6) Pet scams

The demand for pedigree pets at this time of year can cause animal lovers to fall victim to scams. Fake sellers encourage “purchases” of non-existent, pedigree pets online. If you are looking to buy a pedigree pet, check out the seller at the kennel club or equivalent. Look for reviews and if paying for the animal, do so by credit card as this allows some protection if all other checks have been made. 

Get more help to avoid scams at Christmas

Consumers can find advice online and for businesses, awareness and training are vital. This is why the NEBRC offers free core membership to those in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber region. Providing advice and support, so that businesses remain safe and can enjoy a profitable Christmas season.