Beware of these top 12 cons this festive period


Hackney Council’s Trading Standards Team is urging shoppers to take heed of cons this Christmas in order to avoid scams and tricksters, keep safe, protect your consumer rights and keep the festive period fun for all.

Here's the top 12 cons of Christmas and New Year, and how to avoid them:

  1. Christmas gifts: Watch out for unsafe toys, fake make-up, perfume and unsafe electrical goods. Not only are they potentially dangerous and likely to fail safety tests, they also undermine legitimate businesses and could fund crime. The quality is usually poor. For peace of mind, always buy from a reputable retailer and get a receipt for items bought. Be careful of buying items off the street – check that the trader is authorised to sell on the street. Buying online can be risky so look out for copycat/fake websites; you could end up not getting what you ordered and losing your money.
  2. Charitable donations: Christmas is the time for giving, but always double-check who exactly you are giving money to – and what you are signing; take extra care if you are asked to make donations by direct debit. Consumers should be wary of vague statements on collection tins or boxes such as “donations for work creation” or “donations to poor children”. The collectors should be registered with the Council's licensing section and should have ID badges on them. Look out for information on the Charity commission registration number, if no number then do not give. Consider giving online directly to the charity, rather than signing up on the street or your doorstep, where some of the donations will go to a private company providing the canvassers.
  3. Doorstep crime: Bad weather and darker nights are used by rogue traders to convince some residents that unnecessary, and often substandard, home improvements are needed, often at extortionate prices. People are advised not to deal with unsolicited and unexpected doorstep callers, but to use trusted traders recommended by friends, family or an approved codes scheme. If you need home improvements you can find a reputable trader by visiting noroguetradershere.com. Never agree to work there and then always seek a second opinion.
  4. Online free trials: New Year’s resolutions often involve losing weight. Scammers know this and have created pop-ups offering free trials on items such as weight loss supplements while disguising contracts in the fine print. After entering card details to pay for the post and packaging, scammers use these hidden contracts to regularly take sums of money from the victim’s account.
  5. Mail scams: Criminals worldwide are sending letters which trick people into parting with billions of pounds every year. Scam letters are mass produced and made to look like personal letters or important documents. They trick you into sending cash, making money transfers or disclosing personal information, such as bank details. Beware of companies stating "Prize waiting for you" if you send money and telling you to keep it secret. Remember, if you have not entered any competitions then you will not have won anything. Never send money to a company to claim a prize or winnings.
  6. Loan scams: Christmas time can put a strain on any budget, and unscrupulous credit businesses are cashing in on people’s financial desperation. Scammers either send unsolicited text messages or cold call victims offering them an unsecured loan, and those who accept can be charged large, upfront fees for little or no service.
  7. Counterfeit alcohol: During the Christmas period, consumers buy a lot of alcohol for their celebrations. Properly produced and certified alcoholic drinks are made using ethanol, a type of alcohol that is safe to drink. However, fake alcoholic drinks may contain cheaper forms of alcohol – found in products like anti-freeze and industrial solvents – which can make them unsafe for consumption.
  8. Computer scams: A very simple and common scam involves bogus calls from a computer company claiming they have been alerted by the victim's internet provider to a serious virus attack, which victims are told can only be fixed by buying a special computer programme. If the owner complies, they’re asked to enter their personal and financial information onto a website, only to find their bank account has been emptied.
  9. Delivery note: Have you received a note through the door which appears to be from a courier company? Stop and think about whether you are actually expecting a delivery. At this time of the year, scammers leave delivery cards which have a phone number to call to obtain a delivery that is not actually there. The calls are to premium rate numbers and you will end up out of pocket.
  10. Energy efficiency and cost of living scams: Pop up adverts online and adverts in publications offering for sale wonder devices that will heat a room and save energy may seem the answer to the energy crisis, but these devices - although lower wattage than standard heaters - will consume the same energy as a more powerful devices to heat and the maintain the room temperature, they may also not have been properly tested and if left unattended could increase the risk of fire. Home insulation scams and issues around poor workmanship are also on the increase, there are concerns regarding foam loft insulation, as this when poorly done can cause damage and cost to house holders to put right, invalidate insurance and raise issues with future house sales.
  11. Facebook Marketplace scams: Criminals can use the Facebook Marketplace to try to steal your money. If the seller asks you to pay via a bank transfer, this is a red flag, and could be a criminal. If possible, narrow your searches so that items are available for local pickup, so that you can meet the seller in a public safe place and have a chance to examine the item before you decide to buy it. If the item is being posted to you, get a tracking number and pay via PayPal or Facebook Checkout to protect your money. Criminals also use Facebook Marketplace to sell fake goods, like designer clothes, bags, shoes, gaming consoles and loads of other items. Designer or expensive items being sold for heavily discounted prices could mean they are fake and potentially unsafe or of poor quality.
  12. Job scams: You may be looking for a job, but beware: victims are losing money through bogus job adverts. The adverts offer employment while convincing the victim to hand over money for non-existent checks and clearance associated with the fake job. Warning signs to look out for are personal rather than company email addresses (for example, a Hotmail account), regular spelling and grammatical mistakes, unrealistic salaries (if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is), stating “No Experience Necessary” as a job title, a job offer without interview, extortionate DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) costs (anything over £75 should be queried), or requesting a candidate to pay for a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau) which no longer exists or for training or uniform to be reimbursed on employment. Look out too for premium rate phone numbers for interviews, illegitimate company names and web addresses. 

If you want to report a scam or have purchased fake or unsafe goods, please report it to the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06