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How best to avoid festive season scams, according to the experts

February 23, 2024
December 1, 2023

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a dodgy-looking fake PayID? Two fraud experts share some common scams doing the rounds in the lead-up to the festive season, and the steps you can take to avoid them.

The festive season is a time for gifting socks and overindulging in rum balls, but unfortunately it can also bring an increase of suitably unfestive online behaviour. And with this year’s gifting season coinciding with a rising cost of living, Australians are more susceptible than ever to fall for banking scams. 

Ahead of the holiday season, we check in with two Bank Australia fraud experts to give us some insight on the common festive scams doing the rounds this year, plus some practical tips on how to avoid them.

Two people sit together at a wooden table, both working on laptops. One points to the screen, the other holds a pink mug

Watch out for PayID scams when selling online

As the cost of living rises and household budgets are stretched, more people than ever are turning to online selling platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree to make some extra money in the lead-up to the festive season.

Unfortunately, it's these kinds of online transactions that attract a disproportionate amount of illegal scamming activity. One of the most common methods is known as the “PayID scam”.

“Already, we’re seeing an uptick in PayID scams heading into the Christmas season,” says Bank Australia Fraud Manager Yvette. While PayID is a helpful banking tool, scammers are taking advantage of customers' unfamiliarity with the product to con them out of money on platforms like Marketplace.

The most common version of the scam goes like this: The seller posts a legitimate item for sale on Marketplace and is very quickly contacted by an interested “buyer” (aka the scammer). Usually insisting on a quick transaction, the “buyer” will ask to use PayID. Once the mobile number for the PayID has been provided, the scammer will advise the purchase transfer did not work and ask for an email address instead. 

“From this point on, the scam can take on different forms,” says Bank Australia Senior Analyst, Tara – but it always results in the scammer asking the person selling the item to transfer money. “An immediate red flag,” she adds.

Usually the scammer will email a fake screenshot to prove they’ve made a transaction, then the buyer will receive a fake email from “PayID,” claiming they need to pay to upgrade their account before the funds can be released. 

Alternatively, the scammer will sometimes email a fake screenshot that makes it appear as though they’ve accidentally overpaid for the listed item, and demand the seller “return” the difference. 

In this instance, the scammers can get very aggressive, warns Tara. “I actually spoke to a victim yesterday who said the scammer started aggressively harassing her with messages demanding she return a certain amount of money – despite the transaction never occurring.” This is another red flag to look out for: scammers will use a sense of urgency to try and con a victim into the transaction.

Tips to avoid Marketplace/PayID scams

“First and foremost we tell our customers that you should never ever have to send money if you're the one selling the item,” says Yvette.

  • If someone advises a transfer did not work, check your account before providing additional information like an email address.
  • Payments are never "held" by PayID. PayID is just a way to send funds without sharing account numbers. If someone claims that your payment is being held by PayID, this is not true.
  • PayID and New Payments Platform (NPPA) never send emails to customers. If you receive an email claiming to be from PayID or NPPA, it’s likely a scam. If you're not sure if an email is legitimate, call Bank Australia on 132 888.

A woman checks her phone while leaning on a countertop in the kitchen

Be vigilant around delivery SMS scams

Since the Covid-19 lockdowns, consumers are shopping online more than ever. And with Christmas purchases driving an exponential increase in home deliveries, scammers are taking advantage of our diminished vigilance as we field an abundance of delivery update text messages and emails.

“I was probably the only person in the whole of Australia that didn't purchase anything online [during COVID],” says Yvette. “Yet, I used to receive all these fake texts about my DHL delivery or my Australia Post delivery. And I thought, ‘Wow, how easy would it be for someone who is always buying things online to fall for this?’”

Delivery scams usually take a very similar form. A text message will arrive, often claiming to be from a legitimate delivery company, asking the recipient to click on a link to confirm their incoming delivery. The link will then usually request additional money for a missed delivery, but the messages and intentions of the scam links can vary.

Tips to avoid delivery SMS scams 

“For deliveries, always go back to the original source,” Yvette advises. “If you have purchased something online, the company will tell you how it's being delivered, via which delivery service, and give you a time period in which to expect your package.”  

  • Keep track of the specific delivery details (i.e. delivery company and estimate delivery times) of your original purchase.
  • Don’t click on a link, even if it looks like it’s from a legitimate source, as scammers can impersonate or “spoof” official-looking businesses. Instead, go to the official delivery app (e.g. the Australia Post app) or original email for tracking details.
  • Don’t transfer additional money for an item you have already purchased. If you’re unsure of anything, ring the company and confirm verbally. 
  • Be vigilant with every SMS you receive regarding a delivery. 
  • Block and/or report suspicious phone numbers.

But wait, there’s more

While these are two of the more prominent scams to keep an eye out for during the festive period, there are unfortunately many more out there right now. These include pop-up or “remote access” scams and the What’sApp or “Hi Mum/Dad” scams, which you can read about in more detail here.

How to protect yourself this festive season

It sometimes feels like scammers are everywhere, but Bank Australia has a few steadfast tips to avoid falling for most of the common scams around. These include:

  • Never give out your personal identification details.
  • Never share your one-time passwords.
  • Call the person/company to verify.
  • If you’re unsure, hang up.
  • Educate yourself and those around you.

Check out more useful tips to protect yourself against scams this festive season, and beyond.

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