The warning has been issued by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau who have received a large number of reports from victims who have lost out in similar circumstances.
In each case the victim has bought something online, assuming that the seller is legitimate and in many cases payment has been taken through a reputable payment protection service.
When the package arrives and is signed for by someone at the delivery address, if the contents have not been checked before signing, each victim has found the package to be empty or to not contain the item they ordered.
The victims have attempted to track their orders online but discover that the package they signed for had the same tracking number as the ordered item and when disputing the problem it looks as though the package has been successfully delivered.
Residents are encouraged to follow a few simple steps in order to prevent them from becoming a victim of similar scams:
- Always check seller feedback when buying online – if the seller has a lot of recent negative feedback, do not buy from them. It is not unknown for fraudsters to hack legitimate accounts or trick legitimate sellers into allowing them to use their account for fraudulent purposes, so focus on the most recent feedback.
- Consider keeping a list of which items you and the people you live with are expecting to be delivered as it can be particularly confusing when you have a large number of items on the way, which is often the case in the run up to Christmas.
- If you are asked to sign for a package and are in any doubt as to what it is for, consider opening and verifying it before signing for the item.
If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by this fraud or any other online scam, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk
With around 50% of us expected to buy our Christmas presents online, Julie Waddington from Lancashire County Council's Trading Standards Service is reminding shoppers that fraudsters have many ways of scamming us for money.
"In the past 12 months, Lancashire Trading Standards has received over 1,000 complaints about online traders, from scams to faulty goods," Julie said.
"Sadly, while for many of us Christmas is a time of goodwill, it isn't for fraudsters. They have no qualms about ripping people off. I'd like to remind people to be aware of the methods they use to get their criminal hands on our money.
"As well as creating fake websites, fraudsters have many other ways of ripping people off. Whether it's offering counterfeit, poor quality or unsafe items or simply never delivering the goods or services, their crimes can cause serious distress, especially at Christmas."
Here are Julie's top tips on what to look out for over the festive period to keep safe online and to avoid upset and disappointment:
Only buy goods and services from online retailers/ brands you trust. Check whether the website has a legitimate address and returns policy. Check sellers' feedback and reviews.
The address of secure websites will start with the letters https and will have the padlock symbol.
Use only recommended payment methods such as a credit card rather than transferring money via bank account transfer to a seller.
People who need an urgent loan over Christmas should never pay an advance fee and never agree to taking out a loan after being 'cold called'.
Beware of fraudsters intercepting applications to genuine businesses.
Please tread carefully when using online auction sites. Most items will be genuine, but fraudsters can use the opportunity to sell fake items such as smartphones and designer clothing at low prices.
Research the seller before buying, and be cautious when buying from sellers abroad.
Be wary of fraudsters selling 'too good to miss' cheap package holidays on websites or social media. Always check the travel company is ATOL or ABTA bonded.
If you receive an anonymous e-card (or any attachment), play it safe and delete the email without opening it. Cyber criminals are creating their own versions of electronic Christmas cards which may contain a virus (malware) that could collect personal and financial information about you.
There are many bogus sites selling tickets to events and gigs. Use reputable sites and look at the reviews for the gig/ sporting event to see if other customers have experienced problems.
Watch out for fraudsters taking advantage of our charitable nature. While most charities are genuine, there are fraudsters who falsely claim to be collecting on their behalf.
If making a donation online, go directly to the charity's website rather than going to the site by clicking on a link in an email. Never make donations via a money transfer.
People who get a smartphone or tablet for Christmas, should be aware that cyber criminals are constantly developing new ways to infect these devices through malicious apps or websites. Always check reviews and ratings and only download official apps.
Never be tempted to pay via a money transfer for something online, even if it is the 'last one in stock' or 'two days before Christmas'. Never provide your banking details to people you do not know.
Many adverts on networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be genuine, but beware of fraudsters advertising give-aways and offers in the hope that you will click on this site and be directed to a dodgy website peddling scams.
Thinking of joining an online dating site? While this can be a great way to find an ideal partner, beware of fraudsters who use dating sites to win your affection then asking you for money for a family problem or for them to pay you a visit.
More and more people are using mobile devices to make purchases so, if your device is stolen, do not save passwords on it, make sure Bluetooth is always switched off and learn how to remotely wipe data from the device's memory.
Janice Hanson, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for public protection, said:
"I understand that Christmas is a very busy time and that when buying presents, it is very tempting to cut corners. However, I would strongly advise customers to take note of Julie's advice when shopping online.
"I would ask people to imagine the disappointment of finding that the present they've bought for a loved one doesn't work, isn't what they expected or never gets delivered.
"That said, shopping online is generally safe and convenient. Shoppers should trust their instincts, and if something feels wrong, take steps to protect yourself. Simple steps such as paying by credit card for extra protection for goods over £100 and installing reputable antivirus software can help keep you safe online."
For advice on your consumer rights call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506, to report an online fraud go to www.actionfraud.police.uk and for up to date information on current scams go to www.facebook.com/StanleyDards.
You can follow Lancashire Constabulary at https://www.facebook.com/lancspolice or twitter.com/lancspolice for top tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of an online fraud this Christmas.