10 Dec 2021

Buy now, think later: one in eight Brits risk being scammed this Christmas as they flout basic checks

  • Low stock on must-have items forces Brits to snap up items as soon as they are spotted
  • One in eight would rush into a purchase this year even if it looked too good to be true
  • More than one in ten have been duped yet one in three say they’ll never be scammed
  • Nationwide data suggests those aged between 21 and 30 most susceptible to purchase scams
  • Two-thirds store details on websites, but one in eight don’t know how many their details are on

A mad dash for low-on-stock Christmas gifts could give rise to purchase scams as people grab what they can without protecting themselves, new research1 from Nationwide Building Society shows. One in eight (13%) admit they will rush into buying items that are ‘too good to be true’ without making basic checks as to whether they are legitimate.

The research comes as ongoing supply chain issues mean many must-have presents are proving harder to find this festive season and with more people than ever shopping online due to a prolonged pandemic.

Nationwide’s poll, commissioned as part of its work to educate its members around fraud and scams, reveals that more than four in ten (42%) are worried about falling victim to a purchase scam and that more than one in ten (11%) have themselves been duped.

While some 45 per cent of people would research before deciding whether to purchase an item that was ‘too good to be true’ – often a tell-tale hallmark of a dodgy deal – nearly a third (35%) of Brits say they will never fall victim to a purchase scam – suggesting a degree of confidence that it won’t happen to them.

This belief is highest amongst younger people, with those aged 16-24 around twice as likely to think it won’t happen to them compared to those aged 55+ (49% vs 24%). Despite this, Nationwide’s own data shows that the highest proportion of purchase scam victims are aged 21-30, accounting for more than a quarter (26%) of all cases - that’s more than all age categories over 50 put together. 

The majority of people (60%) aim to buy their gifts via websites of well-known retailers. However, nearly a quarter (24%) of shoppers will head to social media or auction sites, like Facebook Marketplace or eBay and a fifth (20%) will opt for lesser-known websites.

These sites and independent sellers can appear to offer fantastic deals, but shoppers should always do their research first before parting with their money otherwise they could be left disappointed if the goods don’t turn out to be what they were promised, don’t turn up at all or worse yet the seller turns out to be completely fake.

The other tell-tale sign is when a seller asks you to pay via electronic faster payment and won’t accept cards or use a secure payment app like PayPal. Legitimate companies and even smaller traders usually offer these options because they offer all parties more protection.

Half (50%) of shoppers say they will use online reviews or testimonials to see what other experiences, good or bad, people have had. Social media, including YouTube, Instagram and TikTok can often be a good source for this, which could explain why younger people are more likely to seek out online reviews (69% for those aged 25-34 compared to just 31% of those aged 55+). You need to know who you are dealing with – even an independent seller should have a body of reviews on a marketplace site. You also need to check the goods are legitimate - a cheap designer item of clothing is very unlikely to be legitimate and may not even exist.

Increasingly people lead busy lives, so convenience and ease are important for people when shopping online. Two thirds (69%) of people store their details on websites to make it quicker to check out, but this can be a risk should the website get hacked. On average people have their details, including card details on eight websites, but 4% of people have their details stored on over 26 websites while nearly one in eight (13%) confess to no longer knowing how many websites their details are stored on.

Recent changes in regulation require ‘Strong Customer Authentication’ which helps prevent fraudulent use of your card details online by another party – it’s why we are increasingly asking members to authenticate purchases with a push notification sent to their banking app or by inputting a one-time passcode sent to their mobile phone, landline or email or using their card reader.  But none of these measures will help prevent a scam if you make the payment willingly.

Nationwide has educational information available online about scams to help people protect themselves. In addition, the Society recently introduced a Scam Checker Service that enables its members to check an electronic payment (i.e. a bank transfer)2 if they are worried about it either in branch or by calling a 24/7 freephone number (0800 030 4057). If they check before making the payment and it is given the go ahead and the member is subsequently scammed, Nationwide will fully reimburse the loss.  

Ed Fisher, Head of Financial Crime at Nationwide Building Society, said: “After last year’s lockdown Christmas, people are more determined than ever to celebrate with friends and family. One part of the festivities is the giving and receiving of gifts, but with ongoing supply chain issues this year it may be harder than ever to find that must have present. This may mean people are more tempted than ever to shop on websites they haven’t heard of or turn to private sellers for a bargain, but if they aren’t careful, they could find that scammers become like the grinch that stole their Christmas gifts. People always think it won’t happen to them, but purchase scams are the most common type of scam and anyone can fall for them. If shopping online, remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is, and to always use a card or secure payment app unless you are totally confident the person is exactly who they claim to be, and the goods are genuine.  So makes sure you do your research on a company or seller before parting with your money.”

Top tips for keeping safe when shopping online include:

  • If something looks too good to be true, it probably is – scammer will often try and lure people in with offers of good at heavily discounted prices. Always do your research about the website, product and what the standard price is - if something looks too cheap it could well be a scam.
  • Pay by card or secure payment app – Credit and debit cards offer more consumer protection should the goods not arrive or arrive not as described. If you need to pay by bank transfer, try and collect the goods and pay once you have seen the item. Secure payment apps also offer good protection and almost all genuine sellers use them.  Avoid bank transfers unless you know the recipient.
  • Beware of fake website – Scammers can create fake website of genuine sites, so always look at the URL and look for the padlock/https tags which tell you it is a secure site.
  • Keep a regular eye on your account – Make sure you regularly monitor the transactions on your account, such as by using a banking app. If you spot a suspicious transaction let your bank or building society know as they can take steps to protect you.


Notes to editors

1 National representative survey conducted by Censuwide of 2,001 people between 29 November and 1 December.

2 Our Scam Protection Promise covers Faster payments, CHAPS payments and internal transfers to another Nationwide account.  It does not cover some payment types, like cash withdrawals, cheques, card payments or overseas payments Swift and SEPA.