IT'S beginning to look a lot like Christmas - better known by the not-so-jolly online fraudster elves as scam season.
Yes, it's that time of the year again when the low-life scammers who plague our email inboxes and phones, ramp up their activity with an almost festive frenzy, in the knowledge that we're extra busy, extra tired, we're paying out money hand over fist and that even the most cautious of us can slip and be "taken for an expensive ride".
In fact, one of The Senior's journalists was targeted last week with a phone call from a bogus caller claiming to be from Telstra's technical support department wanting to "fix" her personal computer by removing some corrupt files and malware, which the caller said she had inadvertently downloaded.
All our journo had to do was hand over control of her computer to this "helpful" person!
The problem was, of course, that this helpful techie would then have stolen personal information and bank account details and probably installed a ransomware program that would require the payment of several hundred dollars to have removed - if it ever was!
Luckily our journo was scam savvy and didn't fall for the hustle. But sadly many do - and it costs them dearly.
Recently an elderly NSW woman was scammed this way, even giving her bank account details to the overseas fraudsters.
So to make sure we only "give" to those we want to, here is a list of some of the scams that regularly do the rounds at this time of year.
It's not, by any means a complete list, so remember: if it looks dodgy, if it seems dodgy, if it sounds dodgy... it probably is dodgy. There's rarely such a thing as a free lunch ... even at Christmas!
Scam or unreliable online retailers
According to ScamWatch, scammers may set up fake websites that look like genuine online retail stores. The sites may incorporate sophisticated designs and layouts, possibly stolen logos and even a 'dot com dot au' (.com.au) domain name and stolen Australian Business Number.
However, these scam websites will typically ask people to pay by money order, pre-loaded payment card or wire transfer. If you pay this way, you are likely to lose your money and not receive your purchased item.
Be cautious of new or unknown retail websites, particularly those that advertise products and services at extremely low prices. These may be scam websites set up to steal your money or identity details.
Check the retailer's site to see how they handle your sensitive information - you don't want them selling it to third parties - and check reviews.
Never trade outside an auction website and only pay for goods on a classified website when you have seen or received them.
Fake parcel delivery scams arriving in email inboxes
This scam is prevalent during the holiday season with so many Australians going online to buy Christmas presents; but the ACCC says there's nothing festive about it. "Scammers will use it to steal your personal information and lighten your wallet."
Scammers typically send emails pretending to be from Australia Post or another courier service to try to trick you into believing you have an "undeliverable package".
In some cases, these emails may include your name and address and include legitimate-looking company information, complete with fake logos.
The email may threaten to charge you a fee for holding your item, and will ask you to open an attachment, click a link or download a file to retrieve your parcel.
If you follow these instructions, you will likely download a ransomware virus that locks your computer and the scammers will demand a ransom payment in the form of Bitcoins (a form of online currency) or wire transfer. Even if you pay the fee, there is no guarantee you will be able to access your computer again.
The ACCC's Scamwatch has already received 625 parcel delivery scam reports by over-55s this year.
Do not click on links in emails you receive "out of the blue" - especially if they are executable (.exe) or zip (.zip).
If you are suspicious of a parcel notification, contact the company direct - use contact details from an internet or phone book search, not from the details in the email.
Romance and dating scams
The holiday season can be a time when thoughts turn to romance, especially for the long term or even newly-single senior. The internet has made it very easy to search for love, and many people have great success; but it has also made it simple for scammers to target the lonely.
Dating scammers are expert at gaining your trust and will tell you elaborate stories. They may have become ill or have a sick child or grandchild; they may have encountered some personal or financial problem; or they may want to come to visit you but don't have the money for the airfare.
The ACCC recommends being very wary of requests for money. Never send money, credit card details or copies of personal documents and don't agree to transfer money for anyone else. Money laundering is a criminal offence.
This year there have already been 889 dating scam reports by over-55s with losses totalling more than $8 million. That number is probably a lot higher as many people feel too embarrassed to admit falling foul to this sort of fraud.
Fake holiday accommodation booking sites
'Tis the season to want a hard-earned holiday break, or maybe you need to visit family but can't bear the thought of sleeping in the spare room.
Beware the cheap accommodation scam. ACCC's deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard warns "watch out for scammers advertising accommodation deals in great locations at cheap prices.
When you go to book a break, scammers direct you away from the site and ask you to pay them directly using money orders or wire transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram". These scammers may also steal your personal and banking details
The Centrelink scam
If you receive a phone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from the Department of Human Services or Centrelink saying you are eligible for an increase in your pension or benefit, hang up - it's a scam.
Scamwatch warns that the scammer will claim you've been sent a letter about an increase in your benefits and not responded to it. They will then claim that your file has been sent to Canberra and that you can either go to Canberra to fill out the required form or you can pay a fee and have the forms sent to you - by wire transfer or iTunes cards.
Fake gift cards or vouchers
You receive an email asking you to do a survey or telling you that you have won a prize - usually from some respectable retailer or company. You are then redirected to a site asking for your personal and bank account details. After handing over your personal information, you may receive a fake gift voucher or nothing at all; and you may begin to receive unsolicited emails and phone calls requesting more information that the scammer may use to commit identity theft and other fraud.
The phishing scam
You receive a fake email that asks you to click a link which downloads malicious software onto your computer. It will either steal your personal information or allow the scammers to demand a ransom to "free" your computer.
Credit card surcharges
Earlier this year it became law in Australia that retailers could only charge a credit or debit card surcharge equivalent to that charged to them by their bank.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has said that, as a guide, payments through the domestic eftpos system (used to process payments from debit cards) are usually quite low. Accepting a Visa or MasterCard debit transaction may cost a business about 0.5 per cent of the transaction value. It can vary however. Credit cards usually have a higher cost for businesses, and may cost the business up to 1-1.5 per cent for Visa and MasterCard, and between 2-3 per cent for an American Express card payment.
If you think a retailer is charging too high a surcharge you can discuss it with the business; and if you still think the surcharge is incorrect you can complain to the ACCC.
Merry Christmas! And remember - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!