Beware: The 12 Cons of Christmas

Published: Tuesday, 10th December 2019

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.

Sajeela Naseer, Head of Trading Standards and Markets, said: “At this time of year, many consumers are looking for a bargain. They may be tempted to respond to ads on social media where a wide variety of products, claiming to be popular brand names, are sold very cheaply. These goods often turn out to be fake and of poor quality; they could also be unsafe. The goods may be sold online or on social media sites or from unauthorised street sellers.

"I would urge consumers to check labels and branding to make sure they are genuine. Any product on sale anywhere other than through an 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."

The 12 cons of Christmas:

  1. Christmas gifts: Watch out for unsafe toys, fake make-up, perfume and unsafe electrical goods. Not only are they potentially dangerous and likely to fail safety tests, they also undermine legitimate businesses and could fund crime. Some of these items may be counterfeit; this can include all types of branded products such as clothing, electrical goods, mobile phones and accessories, toys and cosmetics. The quality is usually poor. For peace of mind, always buy from a reputable retailer and get a receipt for items bought. Be careful of buying items off the street – check that the trader is authorised to sell on the street. Buying online can be risky so look out for fake websites; you could end up not getting what you ordered and losing your money.
  2. Charitable donations: Christmas is the time for giving, but always double-check who exactly you are giving money to – and what you are signing; take extra care if you are 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”. The collectors should be registered with the council's licensing section and should have ID badges on them.
  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, 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 such as weight loss supplements while disguising contracts in amongst the fine print. After entering 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 which trick people into parting with billions of pounds every year. Scam letters are mass produced and made to look like personal letters or important documents. They trick you into sending cash, making money transfers or disclosing personal information, such as& bank details. Beware of companies stating "PRIZE waiting for you" if you send money and telling you to keep it secret. Remember, if you have not entered any competitions then you will not have won anything. Never send money to a company 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 alcohol: During the Christmas period, consumers buy a lot of alcohol for their celebrations. Properly produced and certified alcoholic drinks are made using ethanol, 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Delivery note: Have you received a note through the door which appears to be from a courier company? Stop and think about whether you are actually expecting a delivery. At this time of the year, scammers leave delivery cards which have a phone number to call to obtain a delivery that is not actually there. The calls are to premium rate numbers and you will end up out of pocket.
  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 appear to have driven fewer miles, which they use to bump up the price. They will also try to make an old car look more attractive by concealing known faults and not telling potential buyers about the vehicle history. You could end up with a heap of scrap – or even a death trap.
  11. HMRC scam: Consumers are being warned of an email or text purporting to be from HMRC, claiming that the recipient is entitled to a tax rebate. To get the repayment, they ask you to disclose your personal or financial details. There is also a scam where you receive a voicemail/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: With Christmas expenses, you may be looking for a job, but beware: victims are losing money through bogus job adverts. The adverts offer 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 for are personal rather than company email addresses (for example, a Hotmail account), regular 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 DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) costs (anything over £75 should be queried), or requesting a candidate to pay for a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau) which no longer exists, premium rate phone numbers for interviews, illegitimate company names and web addresses.

If you want to report a scam or have purchased fake or unsafe goods, please report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06 or visit the Birmingham Trading Standards website

Have a safe and happy Christmas.

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