‘Tis the season to be wary

It is not a surprise that the number of scams we are exposed to as consumers increases in the four weeks before Christmas. The traditional sales period starts earlier and earlier every year but with the vast majority of our shopping this year forced online, we all need to be part of the solution rather than the problem when it comes to online fraud.

The must-have item in many households in the UK this year is the PS5. Sony’s new games console was launched last week to a great fanfare and consequently, huge demand. As predicted, stores quickly ran out of their limited supply of the consoles, which retail at up to £449. It isn’t just Sony who can’t meet demand – Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, launched earlier in November is sold out everywhere and may not be available until Spring 2021. The huge demand and the scarce supply is bad news for consumers but is the perfect storm for the fraudsters.

The festive period is a lucrative time for both legitimate and illegitimate businesses. Whilst genuine retailers will have invested not only in stock but also marketing campaigns, the fraudsters will ride on the crest of the wave of consumer demand, knowing that a few well-placed adverts on Social Media will reap their ill-gotten rewards.

In the space of a few days there have already been stories of consumers being duped even when using legitimate retail websites.  In an article for Forbes.com, tech journalist Barry Collins reported a number of cases where customers had received items that certainly weren’t the PlayStation 5 consoles they had ordered from Amazon, whilst the usual adverts have been appearing on Facebook for the consoles, using genuine retailers brand but as usual, featuring poorly written adverts that give away to most people they are scams.  Unfortunately, that still doesn’t stop desperate consumers being tricked into handing over their personal and financial details.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) updated their guidance for online shoppers this week ahead of what promises to be a big week for online retail:

  • Be selective about where you shop online – if a deal looks too good to be true it probably is!  So, if a retail store or website you have never heard of has hard to find items in stock, ask yourself why.
  • Only provide the necessary information to make a purchase – some scam websites will try to gather as much personal data as they can to either use themselves for other scams or sell onto third parties who have nefarious intentions.
  • Only use websites which are protected through encryption or SSL.  Look for the green browser bar or the small padlock in the address bar.  Never submit any personal or financial details unless you are on an encrypted page.
  • Be very wary of suspicious emails, phone calls, texts or WhatsApp messages.  Unfortunately, our personal data is constantly at risk of being used for fraud.  Scammers do not adhere to GDPR regulations!

If you are unsure whether to trust a website, check when the domain name was registered. Most, not all mind, scam websites use recently registered domain names which may also be typos of well-known brands. 

In the last seven days hundreds of new domain names featuring the trademarked term “PlayStation” have been registered, including PlayStation5.deals, PlayStation5.gift and PlayStation5.online – none of which appear to have been registered by Sony.  The speed by which a scammer can register a domain name and get a website up and running is faster than ever so consumers should check if things don’t stack up.

As always, the need to exercise caution increases at this time of the year not just for consumers but also for brand holders.  Unfortunately, the actions of the scammers has an consequential impact on the reputation of the brands.  Stories about consumers being scammed when trying to buy their products or using their websites will scream their brand name and so it is important that organisations also need to be monitoring the situation and taking action swiftly to reassure consumers. 

We’ve all faced enough problems in 2020 to not want more headaches and heartache this festive period.  Don’t let the fraudsters win – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!

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