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Beware: The 12 Cons of Christmas

Published: Thursday, 15th December 2016

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 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 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. Some of these items may be counterfeit. For peace of mind, always buy from a reputable retailer and get a receipt for items bought. Do not buy items from people selling goods in bin liners claiming overstocked items.

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”. Official charity collectors will have ID badges and be registered with the council’s Licensing Section.

3. Doorstep crime: Bad weather and darker nights are used by rogue traders to convince some residents that unnecessary, and often sub-standard, home improvements are needed and 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

4. Online free trials: New Year resolutions often involve losing weight, working off the mince pies. 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 money from the victim’s account.

5. Mail scams: Criminals worldwide are sending letters designed to trick people into parting with billions of pounds every year. Scam letters are mass produced but made to look like personally addressed letters or important documents. They trick you into sending cash, making money transfers or disclosing personal information, e.g. bank details. Beware of companies stating there’s a prize waiting for you, as long as you send money and to keep it secret. Note – you cannot win a prize if you have not entered any draws or competitions, so never send money 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 and illicit alcohol and tobacco: 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 usually 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.

Counterfeit tobacco: Products have been found in shops, which people have bought believing them to be genuine, some have then complained that they don’t taste like their usual brand. Selling smuggled cigarettes is also illegal and undermines honest trade. Traders who deal in illegal goods are ripping their customers off.

8. Computer scams: A very simple and common scam involves bogus calls from a computer company claiming they have been alerted by the victims 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.

9. 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. A similar scam known as smishing use text messages and phishing uses email and internet.

According to the Government-backed security body Get Safe Online, phishing attacks rose by more than 20 per cent last year, estimated to cost Britain more than £280 million. Between November 2014 and October 2015 they received more than 95,000 reports of vishing. The number of incidents reported peaked on 21 October 2015, the day of the Talk Talk data breach. Email phishing accounts for more than three quarters (77 per cent) of all reported incidents, followed by phone calls which accounted for one in ten (12 per cent) incidents.

Unsolicited email impersonating a legitimate company or organisation was a favoured attack method, with some of the most common attempts appearing to come from such as Amazon, Apple, PayPal, eBay, Netflix and Facebook or organisations such as banks and HMRC. This is because many of us have accounts with those companies or banks and have to pay tax.

10. Car clocking and misdescribed cars: 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. They will also try to make an old car look better than it is by hiding known faults and not telling potential buyers about the vehicle history. Consumers are advised to check a vehicle’s history before buying a used car, to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

11. HMRC scam: Consumers should beware of emails or texts purporting to be from the HMRC advising that you’re entitled to tax rebate and asking you to disclose personal or financial details. A similar scam involves a voicemail or automated call from ‘HMRC’ claiming a lawsuit is being brought against you. This is not an expression of yuletide goodwill, it is a scam that will put consumers at risk of fraudulent activity, and should be ignored.

12. Job scams: Job hunters are losing money in bogus job adverts. The advert offers 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 include personal email addresses e.g., 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 Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) costs (anything over £75 should be queried), or asking a candidate to pay for a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check which no longer exists, premium rate phone numbers for interviews, illegitimate company names and web addresses.

Those who know of scams or are in receipt of counterfeit or dangerous goods should contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06 or visit our Trading Standards website

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