ICT Views

Bah Humbug! Fraud at Christmas

by: (Research and Development Manager) on

While accidentally letting slip recently here in the ICT office that I wasn’t a massive fan of Christmas, I was instantly hit with cries of ‘But your name is Holly, how can you not like Christmas?!’ and ‘Bah Humbug!’ My birthday, by the way, is in March.

ChristmasCarolNow my reasons for not liking Christmas aside, it did get us wondering why does Ebenezer Scrooge bellow ‘Bah Humbug’ in ‘A Christmas Carol’? Yes, we know he hates Christmas but why ‘Bah Humbug’? After a small amount of research, it turns out that aside from the hard boiled sweet, a humbug is actually a person or object that behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way or is a quality of falseness or deception. So in other words, a fraudster. So when Scrooge is exclaiming ‘Bah Humbug’, is he actually expressing his feeling that Christmas is a fraud?

While the reasons for Scrooge hating Christmas are revealed to us throughout the book, there are some people who believe that Christmas in general is a fraud. They postulate that it is actually an appropriation of the Roman festival of Saturnalia which started on 17th December, lasted for seven days and was to commemorate Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. When the Romans started converting to Christianity, they wanted to get as many of the Pagans/worshippers of Roman gods on board as possible and therefore cancelling Saturnalia wasn’t an option. So Christianity converted it to a Christian holy day and Christmas (forgive the pun) was born.

Nowadays, as I’m sure we are all aware, Christmas has become more commercialised and is a time of year where people spend a lot of money. However with an increased amount of spending comes an increased amount of fraud. Even as far back as 1890, people have been utilising Christmas as means of exploiting or defrauding people. In a newspaper article published on 4th January 1890, there is an account of James Walsh, a porter who had been fired by the North-Western Railway Company but not turned in his porters badge and around the Christmas period, he used this to try and scam money out of people by pretending he had a package for them and they had money to pay on it. This failed to work however when he called at the house of a policeman and he was charged before the Lord Mayor with attempting to obtain money by false pretences and sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

SantahatlaptopWhile technology and therefore fraud techniques have come a long way since the days of James Walsh - and fraudsters no longer need to venture from the comfort of their own home to commit fraud - they still know that Christmas is an ideal time to scam or defraud someone. With consumers desperate to bag themselves a bargain, it is easy to get sucked in by a ‘too good to be true’ deal or mistake a bogus website which will advertise goods or services that are counterfeit or won’t be delivered, for the real thing. Also, although people are spending more, this isn’t being reflected in how often they check their account, allowing many fraudulent transactions to be put through by a fraudster who has a consumers card details and is funding their Christmas with it. Fraudsters are also taking advantage of people’s need to have the latest toy or gadget, along with the fact that someone will always leave their shopping to the last minute by encouraging consumers to transfer money into their bank account to pay for goods because ‘it’s the last one in stock’ or ‘two days before Christmas’. When the goods never arrive, the consumer has no way of getting their money back.

However it is not just individual consumers that are falling victim to fraud at Christmas; I have read recently that retailers will be suffering as well. According to the National Retail Federation in the US, last year return fraud was estimated to have cost retailers $9.1 billion, with $2.2 billion of that happening during the Christmas period. Return fraud occurs when a criminal steals an item from a store and then returns it later to get the cash value or when counterfeit bills are used to pay for items which are then returned for real cash. There are also instances of criminals making a genuine purchase of a genuine product but then returning a counterfeit product and asking for a full refund.

To protect yourself this year, make sure you are buying from official and reputable websites (check for poor grammar, low resolution images or odd links) and look for the lock symbol and the ‘https’ in the address bar to make sure the site uses encryption to protect your data. Remember to always use the recommended methods of payment for the site you are using and if something seems too much of a bargain, it will most likely be poor quality or won’t even exist.

So as the 25th December inevitably draws ever closer, think twice before you click and don’t get conned this Christmas.

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