Had a friend or relative get in touch out of the blue asking for money? Things might not be all they seem. Here’s why you should stay vigilant.
Scammers are gaining access to email and social media accounts to try to trick friends and contacts into sending them money this Christmas.
Accessing an account and pretending to be its owner is a common tactic used to con people out of money. We saw similar techniques used earlier this year on Facebook, where accounts were being cloned.
Fraudsters are now using these methods to take advantage of the generosity of relatives and friends at this time of year.
We cannot emphasise enough the importance of having strong passwords in place to protect your accounts from unauthorised access.
Last week, Gill got in touch to tell us about a Facebook message from her student granddaughter Cara, asking for her Christmas money early.
The message said that her laptop had died and she needed money towards a new one as soon as possible, so she could complete her coursework. Inevitably, Gill was asked to transfer the money to a bank account.
‘I didn’t question it at all,’ she said. ‘But my husband and I decided we would buy her a laptop and have it delivered to her at her university halls as a surprise.
‘I called my daughter [Cara’s mum] to see if we could all pitch in to buy a new one together, but she knew nothing about a broken laptop.’
It turned out Cara’s Facebook account had been hijacked by scammers.
They found out that Gill was her grandmother and tried to use the information they had from Cara’s profile to trick her into sending them money.
‘With hindsight, it was unusual because Cara has never asked us for money before. But I thought she must be really desperate’, Gill told us.
Gift cards on scammers’ wish lists
A Which? member, who we’ll refer to as ‘Beth’, also told us she was recently abroad on holiday when she received an email that appeared to be from a close friend.
She was asking to borrow £200 to help her pay for Christmas. The friend gave instructions for the money to be sent as an Amazon gift card to a different email account.
Beth sent the voucher, but a few weeks later she discovered criminals had accessed her friend’s email account and had pretended to be her.
They had made similar requests to other friends and family who were on the email account contact’s list.
Beth hasn’t been able to get her money back because she paid for the gift card before sending it to a third party. There is currently no protection for consumers in this case.
Although she paid for the voucher on her credit card, she isn’t protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act because technically, she received what she paid for.
Check before you send
We don’t want to unnecessarily worry you that your friends aren’t always who you think they are.
But if a relative or friend asks you for money over text message, email or through a messaging app, and it’s out of the blue, call them or speak to them in person to check the details before you send money.
It’s worth doing this to check any bank details you’ve been given are legitimate. This advice goes for any time of year, not just at Christmas.
You should also be wary if you’re unexpectedly asked to send gift cards. Scammers like gift cards because they’re difficult to trace, making it almost impossible for them to be caught.
You’re very unlikely to get your money back if you’ve sent gift cards to a fraudster.
Have you or someone you know been affected by a scam like this? Tell us about it below.