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“Christmas scam” is a phrase many of us probably would not have heard of even a few years ago. But as with so many changes over recent times, it has certainly become a reality worth keeping in mind. At this time of year, most people are usually focused on getting all their work done, shepherding kids through the end of the school year, and looking forward to spending time with family, eating delicious food and enjoying a well-earned rest. Unfortunately, it is also a time when we let our guard down, and this is when scammers try to strike.

Why Christmas scams?

After a year spent in and out of lockdown, many consumers want to make up for lost time. In fact, Australian retailers expect customers to emulate last year’s record and spend close to 60 billion dollars in 2021. Accelerating pre-existing trends, a large proportion of this shopping frenzy now takes place online. While scams might be the last thing we want to consider in the lead-up to Christmas, consider the following scenario. You have a million things on your mind, are often in a hurry, expecting various deliveries and feeling financially stressed. In addition, people donate more to charities over Christmas. Throw in increased alcohol use and drama occasionally associated with festivities and you have a fertile ground for scammers. While they are active year-round, fraudsters look out for the particular vulnerabilities this time of year presents. In response, they have developed a range of scams to target these.

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What types of Christmas scams are there?

Online Shopping Scams

Fraudsters are after one of three things: your money, your credit card information, or your personal details. They go after the first – your money – through dedicated Christmas scams exploiting online shopping overwhelm. For example, they may impersonate charities, create look-alike websites imitating major brands or produce misleading social media content that promises unbelievably cheap deals or “gift exchanges”. They all seek to exploit the seasonal gifting/giving culture and the financial pressure many people feel during this time. However, those that “buy” from or “donate” to these fake sites simply end up with nothing. Meanwhile, the scammers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Credit Card Scams

Scammers who are after your credit card information or personal details usually repurpose existing scams to exploit the pre-Christmas rush. Chief amongst these are fake delivery notifications and account alerts for Amazon, PayPal or Netflix which they send via email/text. If recipients click on the included link, they are prompted to enter their credit card information or unwittingly download malware. This malware then simply hoovers up credit card or banking details from your computer and sends it to the scammers. A more advanced version of this new scam appears to work via a fake mobile app. It utilises near field communication (NFC) to extract credit card information from the user as well as any nearby people. Whichever way they get it, the Christmas scammers will use victims’ credit card details to make their own purchases.

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Crypto Scams

While it might not seem like cryptocurrency investment has much to do with Christmas, it pays to be extra vigilant. Taken together, financial pressure, inhibitions loosened by alcohol and, let’s face it, occasional boredom at family gatherings mean that some might be tempted to gamble on investments they know very little about. Others may have spent a little too much time on dating apps such as Tinder where romance baiting is rife. This describes the process of matches establishing rapport and mentioning how much they make from crypto, thereby hooking their victims. Either way, many people are worried about missing out on supposedly “free money” and decide to invest on a whim. Unfortunately, the crypto investment space is rife with fraudsters (as is the crypto recovery market but that’s another conversation). So, what can you do to keep yourself safe from Christmas scams?

What can I do to keep myself safe from Christmas scams?

Buyer Beware

While Christmas scammers employ all kinds of nefarious tricks, you can arm yourself with some simple strategies to stay safe. When it comes to online shopping scams, it’s definitely a case of “buyer beware”. Importantly, you don’t have the security of a real-life store where you receive goods as you pay for them. Instead, take extra care and double-check the spelling of brands and websites – fake ones will often have minor alterations. When shopping for bargains, trust the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. Compare prices to see if the discounts offered are plausible and only use secure payment methods.

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Don’t Click on Embedded Links!

As far as safeguarding your personal and credit card information is concerned, the answer is simple. To stay safe, do not click on any links in emails or texts to verify an order, shipment, or account. If you accidentally did click, don’t enter personal information and take your device to a security professional to remove malware. When it comes to apps, make sure you check out the developer’s bona fides and read other customer reviews first. Be careful where you enter personal information and don’t give Christmas scammers an inch!

Free Scam Detector

When it comes to cryptocurrency scams, safeguarding against financial fraud has just become easier thanks to Cybertrace’s band-new tool: ScamSleuth. It’s a free, easy-to-use public scam detector to help you discern what is fake and what is real. Simply pop the website into ScamSleuth and, within seconds, its user-friendly traffic light system informs you of the risk level. As explained in a recent blog, ScamSleuth is so effective because it doesn’t just automatically tap into multiple global databases. Rather, it combines this with exclusive access to the vast vaults of virtual intelligence from Cybertrace’s forensic website investigations. ScamSleuth is truly a premium product and best of all – it’s quick and completely free to use. Christmas scammers hoping to sell you fake crypto do not like it!

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How can Cybertrace help me with Christmas scams (as well as non-festive ones)?

If cyber criminals defrauded you of your hard-earned money by any means, Cybertrace is here to help you. As the cyber fraud investigation firm in Australia, we have had a bumper year in fighting fraud. In 2021 thus far, we have already completed a record 340 major scam investigations. Out of these, we established a direct link to scammers in at least 75% of cases. Furthermore, we identified valuable intelligence that can be referred to authorities to progress the investigation in a whopping 98% of cases. Our customers clearly value the results of our work, with our Google Reviews showing five-star results across the board.

In fact, 2021 has been a year of significant growth for Cybertrace. First, we doubled our staff numbers, thus significantly enhancing our capacities to conduct investigations. Second, we hosted and trained six interns from Western Sydney University who gained real-world cybercrime-fighting capabilities. Third, we began the process of establishing Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with several Australian and international law enforcement agencies, with whom we work hand-in-hand to uncover global cybercrime networks. Fourth, after launching the first Australian cryptocurrency tracing service available to the public in 2020, Cybertrace’s CEO Dan Halpin has now begun providing expert opinions for court cases involving cryptocurrency tracing. Fifth, Dan co-published an academic book chapter on cryptocurrency tracing and made expert media appearances on cyber security matters. Finally, Cybertrace launched the aforementioned ScamSleuth, a free public fraud prevention detector to help protect Australians from financial fraud.

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What new initiatives is Cybertrace planning?

While 2021 has certainly been impressive, next year looks set to be even more exciting. In partnership with Australian universities, Cybertrace will develop software to fight ransomware and for banks to meet their obligations under anti-money laundering laws, while they seek to expand into cryptocurrencies. Even more importantly, in January 2021 Cybertrace will launch its European operations by opening an office in the Netherlands. Encouraged by the Dutch government, our company will be able to offer the same great services to new clients as well as work around the clock with two teams in multiple time zones to meet our clients’ needs faster. So, whether you are the victim of a Christmas scam or another fraud, Cybertrace is your best call for help. Contact our experienced investigators today to discuss how we can help.

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