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How to protect yourself from scams this Christmas

South_agency via Getty Images

It’s officially scams season. For the next month, with Christmas shopping in full swing, criminals will ramp up their efforts to cash in on shoppers looking for deals. And when the festive frenzy dies down in the new year, they can still exploit our vulnerabilities as we rush for the tax return deadline.

The festive shopping season is particularly fruitful for scammers, because we’re in the perfect frame of mind to fall for a scam. We’re busy and distracted, we’re desperate to buy the perfect gifts and we’re often spending with several online retailers at a time, so we can lose track.

Purchase scams

"Purchase scams" cash in on the fact we’re so busy buying gifts that we might not put in the research that we would at any other time of year. They also take advantage our desperation to buy this year’s must-have gifts.

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They work by offering "unmissable" deals on the most popular items. They might set up a website that looks similar to a popular retailer to persuade you they’re legitimate, but more often they start a website from scratch or sell on social media in the hope you’re so desperate to get hold of something that’s sold out elsewhere that you take a chance on an unknown quantity.

Read more: The hidden reasons we don’t do the right thing with our finances

They never have anything to sell – they just take your money and run.

Failed transaction scams

They also run "failed transaction scams". Here they take advantage of the fact you’re likely to have bought something online with the biggest retailers, so send vast numbers of emails saying a transaction has failed and asking for you to resubmit bank details.

If you’ve just bought something from Amazon, and get an email purporting to be from Amazon and asking you to re-enter your details, you might be hoodwinked into doing so.

Delivery company phishing scams

This scam has developed in recent years, where fraudsters pretend to be a delivery company, asking for personal information, or for your payment details to cover excess charges or fines. Once they have your details, they can exploit them.

Tax scams

The run-up to Christmas is particularly fraught with scam risks, but even once we’ve successfully navigated these, we’re not home and dry, because we run straight into tax return season.

HMRC has warned that in the past 12 months there have been 130,000 reports of tax scams, 58,000 of which were fake tax rebates. These involve texts, emails and phone calls claiming you can get a rebate if you hand over your bank details – which enables them to syphon off your funds.

Read more: What the autumn statement means for your finances

Other common scams include messages telling you to update your tax details – one even threatens arrest for tax evasion.

How to protect yourself

There are a few steps that should help protect you from the most common scams.

  1. View any text or email as a potential scam. They may say they’re the retailer or your bank, or even a police officer. This is a common tactic, so don’t believe them until you have hung up and contacted the organisation using details from their official website – or 101 for the police. If you’re worried HMRC is trying to contact you, call the self-assessment hotline or go into your Government Gateway account to check.

  2. Take your time. One classic technique for scammers is to rush you into action – whether it’s asking for your bank details for fear of missing out on a deal or getting you to move your money because you’re under threat. They hope you’ll act before thinking, so take a breath and think through what they’re offering or claiming.

  3. Look out for tell-tale signs such as an unexpected cold call, email, or text out of the blue. Alarm bells should ring even louder if it’s tied into something that everyone is talking about at the moment – from news stories to tax deadlines.

  4. Never click on any link in an email or text message from senders you don’t already know.

  5. Never give out your bank details. None of your financial contacts will ask for personal information.

Watch: Brits need to be extra vigilant for festive fraudsters – as ‘purchase scams’ peak at the back end of the year

Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.