Beware: The Twelve Cons of Christmas

Christmas is a time for giving, but people are being warned that for some unscrupulous individuals and firms it is a time for conning.

To help shoppers avoid scams and tricksters, Birmingham City Council’s trading standards team is reminding them of the 12 cons of Christmas.

Cllr Barbara Dring, Chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “With Christmas fast approaching I’m sure some people will be tempted to buy cheap counterfeit goods as gifts, but they could prove dangerous to them or the recipient.

I would urge consumers to check labels and branding to make sure they are genuine. Any product on sale anywhere other than the official retailer should be considered as suspect.

The vast majority of traders in the city are responsible and sell legitimate products, but there are a number of rogue traders and con artists who see Christmas as an opportunity to make money dishonestly.

This is why we’re making the public aware of the 12 cons of Christmas, so they can protect themselves and enjoy the festivities without being duped by scammers.”

1. Dangerous counterfeit Christmas gifts: Unsafe toys and electrical goods, such as phone chargers, which fail to comply with UK safety laws, continue to enter the marketplace. Not only are these potentially dangerous, they can also damage the economy and fund crime.  For peace of mind, always buy from a reputable retailer and get a receipt for items bought.

2. Charitable donations: Christmas may be the time for giving, but always double-check who exactly you are giving money to – and what you’re signing, if 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.’

3. Doorstep crime: Bad weather is used by rogue traders to convince some residents that unnecessary, and often sub-standard, home improvements carried out 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.

4. Online free trials: New Year resolutions often involve losing weight, working off the mince pies and lose weight. Scammers know this and have created pop-ups offering free trials on items like weight loss supplements while disguising contracts in amongst the fine print. After entering their card details to pay for the post and packaging, scammers use these hidden contracts to regularly take sums of moneys from the victim’s account.

5. 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.

6. Counterfeit and illicit alcohol: Properly produced and certified alcoholic drinks are made using ethanol, which is 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.

Illicit alcohol: The bottles contain genuine product but they have fake ‘back labels’ which suggest duty has been paid, when it has not, enabling traders to sell them at unrealistically cheap prices.

7. 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 on to a website, only to find their bank account has been emptied.

8. Vishing: This is the act of using the phone to attempt to scam the user into giving out private information that can be used for identity fraud – similar to internet ‘phishing’ scams.

There’s been a sharp rise in people being caught out by vishing scams – consumers have lost more than £23 million, according new figures from Financial Fraud Action UK. Scammers call victims pretending to be a bank, building society or similar official and attempt to get personal information. Consumers must remember their bank or building society will never ask for details over the phone – as they already have them.

9. Council tax re-branding: A recent investigation by North-West Scambusters revealed less than 0.1% of claims submitted by companies claiming they can get council tax refunds are legitimate. The victim often pays high, up-front fees to a company that does no work on their behalf. Householders can make their own application to the Valuation Office Agency themselves – free of charge.

10. Car clocking: Dodgy car dealers will do anything to move a motor – even adjusting the mileage on the clock to make it read fewer miles, which they use to bump up the price.

11. Security alarms: The National Scams Hub is warning consumers about a possible security alarm scam where consumers receive a cold call from a company offering to install security systems. The security system may be free or available at a small cost but the on-going maintenance costs are high and there is a cancellation fee.

12. Grant notices: Consumers are being warned of an email purporting to be from the Commonwealth Secretariat and HM Treasury telling them they qualify for a £1,000 grant to be paid directly into their bank accounts. This email is not an expression of yuletide goodwill, it is a scam that will put consumers at risk of fraudulent activity, and should be ignored.

Those who know of scams or are in receipt of counterfeit goods should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or visit the Birmingham Trading Standards website www.birmingham.gov.uk/tradingstandards

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