How to avoid scams this holiday season

Find out about popular scams during the holiday season and what you can do to protect yourself against them.

20 November 2023

  • Scammers try to exploit our festive moods during the holiday season with tricks like ‘too good to be true’ offers and fake goods and services.
  • When shopping online, look out for imposter websites imitating legitimate businesses.
  • Book directly with hotels and airlines to avoid travel scams.
  • Watch out for texts or emails relating to parcel deliveries – scammers pose as Australia Post or other delivery partners asking you to pay or provide information before receiving your delivery. Don't click on any links and contact the company directly to confirm.
  • Similarly, scammers send texts or emails to solicit fraudulent donations. If you want to give, find the charity's contact details and donate directly. 
  • If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your bank, change your PINs and passwords, and report the scam via the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

When our focus shifts to gift-giving, online shopping, and travel, scammers can take advantage. Here’s how to keep your celebrations bright, cheerful, and safe.

It’s true that online fraud is a year-round problem, but statistics tell us that opportunistic scammers seize on the chance to exploit our cheer around the holidays.

CommBank’s General Manager of Group Fraud Management Services, James Roberts, has a simple message before you book that cheap flight to Europe, or buy a surprisingly well-priced designer handbag to go under the tree for your sister: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Christmas is a time of opportunity for scammers. While most people are thinking about buying gifts or seeing loved ones, scammers are busy targeting their next victim.”

Here’s how to stay vigilant and protect yourself against scams this holiday season.

Online shopping scams

As summer holidays approach, technology connects us with family, helps us research festive wish lists, and makes the burden of Christmas shopping a breeze. Unfortunately, more time online makes it easier for scammers to slide under our radar with websites that mimic authentic retailers and online marketplaces. The products may be non-existent, but the repercussions aren’t – a purchase can allow scammers to hack the credit or debit card details you provide to take your money.

In the market for some luxury pyjamas, Melbourne-based public servant Gabrielle logged on to a favourite brand’s website and paid $250 for a new pair. Unfortunately, the website was a clever imitation. “I thought fake websites would look cheap but this one was well-designed and the pyjamas were correctly priced. When they didn’t arrive, I emailed the site a few times but got no response, so I called the real company’s head office and they had no record of my order.” She cancelled her credit card and the company did end up sending the pyjamas “but it’s made me wary of shopping online again. It’s too easy to get sucked in when dodgy sites look so real.”

Flights and accommodation travel scams

When Melbourne-based personal trainer Dennis booked two weeks at a hotel in Greece with an online travel agency, he received a series of emails confirming his ocean-view room. But when he arrived at the hotel, there was no record of his booking or $3,800 payment. 

“It looked like a real agency. They had accreditation logos and the customer reviews were good,” says Dennis. “I received a few emails confirming my room and reminding me about happy hour every evening from 6pm! But the hotel had never heard of the ‘agency’ I dealt with, and they wouldn’t honour the booking.” Dennis was forced to spend $5,000 on another hotel. Disastrous.

The rise in online holiday and flight bookings is feeding a spike in travel scams with fake hotel bookings and non-existent flight bargains, costing Australians millions of dollars. Avoid scams this summer by booking with a hotel or airline directly. Or confirm the website you use is legitimate by checking that the website’s ABN is actually registered to the named trader – you can do this for free through the Australian Business Register’s ABN Lookup portal.

Scamwatch warns Australians to be wary of unusually low-priced goods and requests for payment up-front via money order or international wire transfer.

Parcel delivery scams

At this time of year, millions of gifts are sent and received, and scammers make money from fake parcel delivery services.

Usually, you get an email or text seemingly from Australia Post or another well-known delivery service. It will say your package couldn’t be delivered and request you click on a link and give personal details for re-delivery.

This is where the CommBank’s Safe mantra – Stop, Check, Reject – really helps. Don’t click on the link or return the call. Instead, look up the delivery company’s details yourself and contact their customer service line directly to check if the message is genuine. And if you do click on the link, provide bank details, and then realise the message is fake, contact your bank straight away.

Charity scams

It’s the season of giving, and plenty of hardworking charities appeal for donations.

Unscrupulous scammers prey on people’s generosity, so be wary of emails, texts, or calls asking for money that might look like they’re from well-known charities.

If you want to donate, find the charity’s website or phone number yourself. That way, you’ll know your donation has reached the right place and that your credit card or bank details won’t be misused.

“The good news is there are ways to reduce the risk of falling victim to sneaky scammers,” says Roberts.

“Be sceptical of unsolicited calls or texts, don’t let anyone coax you into sharing personal details without verifying their legitimacy, and steer clear of clicking on suspicious links.”

If you’re ever in doubt about the legitimacy of a charity, contact them directly after verifying their details with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

Contact your bank

If you, or someone you know, is a CommBank customer and has been scammed (or thing you've been scammed, call the bank immediately on 13 22 21. CommBiz customers should call 13 23 39.

Learn about CommBank’s security features and services

Report the scam

Report the scam via the Australian Cyber Security Centre. Reports may be referred to the police for investigation.

Change your passwords and PINs

Do this straight away if you suspect your security has been compromised. Change these regularly anyway as a preventative measure.

Discover more about how you can protect yourself and stay safe online

Seek support

Contact Idcare on 1800 595 160 and use code CBAIDC to access the free service that provides support to victims of identity crime.

Read more from CommBank about the latest scams, fraud and security alerts

Things you should know

This article was originally published in Brighter magazine

This article provides general information of an educational nature only. It does not have regard to the financial situation or needs of any reader and must not be relied upon as personal financial product advice. The views expressed by contributors are their own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CBA. As the information has been provided without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on this information, consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Terms and Conditions, and whether the product is appropriate to your circumstances. You should also consider whether seeking independent professional legal, tax and financial advice is necessary. Every effort has been taken to ensure the information was correct as at the time of printing but it may be subject to change. No part of the editorial contents may be reproduced or copied in any form without the prior permission and acknowledgement of CBA.