The average UK household spends an extra £800 in December. And it's no surprise that at Christmas, lots of us are shopping online.
That's great news if you've got something on your Christmas list. But it also means fraudsters are on the prowl, trying to con you out of your money. That's why over the festive period, we often see more people getting in touch with us saying they've been scammed.
But you can also do things to protect yourself. So to help you steer clear of any scams, we've shared some of the most common ones to watch out for, and what you can do to stay safe this Christmas.
Watch out for sellers flogging fake items or things that never arrive
Scammers are getting better and better at tricking us, especially when we're all looking for a bargain. And if you do your shopping online, it's easier than ever for a potential scammer to get your money.
Purchase scams are where someone tricks you into buying something that's fake, or that they never had to sell in the first place. In 2018, people lost £46.4 million to these types of scams, according to UK Finance.
To keep your money safe when you're shopping this Christmas:
1. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is
Ask yourself if you really trust someone selling you something like a new iPhone or designer trainers for so much less than you can find elsewhere. Or if you should really believe someone has tickets that are sold out everywhere else.
2. Always pay by card, don't pay by bank transfer. Especially on sites like eBay and Depop
If you've found the perfect Christmas jumper for your mum, you should always pay by card if you can. This is especially true if you're shopping on an online marketplace like eBay or Depop.
Paying by card gives you extra protections if the stuff turns out to be fake or never arrives.
If you pay someone you don't know by bank transfer, it's like handing a stranger a wad of cash in the street. So if they've scammed you, it's almost impossible for us to get your money back. That's because bank transfers move the money instantly, and scammers will usually move the money you've sent to a different account as soon as they get it.
If a seller on eBay asks you to send them money directly rather than pay by card or PayPal, refuse. It's really risky and against eBay's rules.
If you pay by debit card, you can sometimes ask your bank to start a chargeback if the stuff you bought is faulty, fake, or never actually arrives.
The rules mean you have to try and sort out the problem with the seller directly first, and give them some time to respond.
But if you can't come to an agreement or they never get back to you, you can start the chargeback process. You might have to wait up to eight weeks to get your money back, while both sides collect evidence.
You usually only have 120 days (about four months) from when you paid or noticed the problem to start a chargeback. If you paid with your Monzo card, message us in the app and we'll explain the next steps.
If you pay by credit card, you're protected by something called Section 75.
Section 75 protection applies to items worth between £100 and £30,000. It means your credit card provider has to give you a refund if you buy something that's faulty, fake, or never arrives. It also applies if the company goes bust after you bought something from them, but you never got what you paid for (like flights).
Each individual item you bought has to be worth more than £100 (before delivery charges) to be covered by Section 75. Section 75 doesn't apply to the total amount if you're buying multiple things at once. If the value of the item's less than £100, you can start the chargeback process instead.
And remember, before you pay with a credit card, make sure you can afford what you're buying.
3. Only buy stuff on social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat if you know and trust the seller
When you buy something on social media, often the only way to pay is by bank transfer. And if you don't know or trust the person you're buying from, then you're at risk of being scammed.
So be very wary of buying things on social media from people you don't know. It's easy to set up an online profile with a fake name, which means you don't know who you're sending money to. And as soon as you send the money to a scammer, they'll usually block you, so there's nothing you can do.
Even if you think you're buying from someone you know, bear in mind that a scammer could've hacked their social media. So you think you're sending money to your friend, but it's actually going to a scammer.
4. Read the reviews – on a site you trust
We've all heard how that one person will NEVER SHOP HERE AGAIN. But it's always worth seeing if you can spot a pattern in a seller's reviews. This could help you uncover a wider issue, like if the delivery's always late or the customer service isn't very helpful.
It's also useful to do a bit of detective work. If you see a load of reviews (good or bad) made by accounts who all write in the same way (check for spelling errors!), and who've only every reviewed one item, the reviews could be fake.
Which? has a helpful guide to how to spot a fake review.
If you think you've been the victim of a purchase scam
Tell your bank straight away and report it to Action Fraud.
Beware of fake charities
Christmas can be a time when you think about giving back. But unfortunately, fraudsters can try to take advantage of your goodwill.
Scammers will set up fake websites or send emails designed to look like they're from a real charity, to try and convince you to donate. But they're often only posing as a charity you recognise, or they've made up a charity that doesn't exist at all.
Just like purchase scams, fake charities usually try to trick you into sending them money yourself. Scams like these are called authorised push payment (APP) scams, and in 2018 they made up more than 90% of all the scams people reported in the UK.
If you want to donate to a charity, make sure your money's going where you think it is:
1. Check the charity has a charity number and is on the Charity Register
It may be more obvious for some of the bigger charities, but if you've found out about a new charity on social media you might want to double check it's all above board. Charities have to display their charity number (usually at the bottom of their website), and you can also search for them using this government tool.
2. Find out what the charity does
Google them and double check that what someone's telling you this charity does is true.
3. Don't just follow any link to donate
Scammers are really good at copying websites to make them look similar to the real thing. If you come across a link to donate from someone you don't know or trust, search to find out how to donate to that charity instead.