Christmas is a once-a-year opportunity for the unscrupulous to scam consumers caught up in the festive spending spree. Holiday shoppers are popular targets for scams that cost Australians tens of millions of dollars every year.
And though not a 'scam', the Boxing Day sales can certainly be a trap. We've got some tips on how to survive the sales and maybe even buy something you need!
1. E-greeting cards scam
You receive an email that claims a family member or friend sent you a card. However, if you follow the link, malicious software is downloaded and installed on your computer.
If you're not sure about an e-greeting supposedly from someone you know, ask them if they sent it before opening it.
2. Parcel scam
You receive a call or a notice is left at your door about an unsuccessful delivery. The caller may claim to be from Australia Post, even though Australia Post never makes such calls. Then you're asked for a payment or for personal details, such as your bank account or credit card.
Call the delivery company directly using their official number to check if the situation is legit.
3. Charity scams
Sadly, some scammers try to profiteer from the spirit of the season. They may:
- claim to collect for a charity that helps disaster victims or sick children
- approach you while you're shopping
- send you an email
- invite you to visit their fake website.
Don't donate to someone who approaches you out of the blue. Instead, consider which causes are important to you and donate to the charities directly.
Charity greeting card scam
Another potential trap is charity greeting cards. The charity may only receive a fraction of what you paid.
Legitimate charity catalogues let you buy gifts for someone in need and send a card to a friend or family member in whose name you've bought the gift. World Vision and Oxfam, for instance, have catalogues featuring a range of gifts, from chickens and goats to clothing and medicine for those in need.
4. Gift card troubles
Complaints about gift cards that expire too soon land regularly in our inbox here at CHOICE, as do complaints about cards that impose unreasonable restrictions.
We spearheaded a major investigation into gift cards in 2010 that sparked a government inquiry. Unfortunately, the government decided to let the industry regulate itself.
But there are still some steps you can take to avoid gift cards that end up leaving the recipient empty-handed. The first one is to read the fine print on the card.
Look for cards:
- with no expiry date, such as those from Bunnings
- that can be used at everyday stores, such as Coles Group & Myer or Wish (Woolworths group)
- that can be tracked or replaced if they get lost (e.g. cards that can be registered to an individual).
Avoid those with:
- a short expiry date (less than one year)
- conditions and restrictions (such as "can't be used on weekends")
- fees – the Australia Post Visa gift card, for example, charges a $5.95 "purchase price", and $4 to call customer service.
5. Overpriced hampers
Hamper companies promise to deliver everything you need for your Christmas feast, claiming they'll help you budget by allowing you to prepay in convenient instalments throughout the year. They also offer groceries in bulk, and gifts such as electronics or gift cards. But here are the rubs:
- Goods may be overpriced compared to the cost of the same goods purchased online from Coles and Woolworths (including delivery).
- The usefulness and festiveness of some of the items is questionable. Chrisco's Family Christmas Hamper includes tinned spaghetti and two-minute noodles.
- Hamper companies also sell a range of other goods, including electronics, but check for inflated prices.
Beware of the cancellation policies for Chrisco, Hamper King and Castle Hampers. Chrisco was recently fined by the Federal Court for charges brought by the ACCC for its unfair contract cancellation policy. The policy gave Chrisco the right to continue debiting a customer's account after the hamper had been fully paid for. The trick was that the customer had to opt-out of the direct debits – they didn't stop automatically after the final payment.
To budget for next year's Christmas, consider setting up a savings plan.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.