Scamwatch: Christmas e-card fraud

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Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, Christmas e-cards that carry a computer virus that can embed itself and then corrupt your smart phone, tablet or laptop.

How does it work?

Sending e-cards at Christmas allows you to show people you care while saving the environment. It's also a good way to keep the cost of the festive season down.

However, while most of the e-cards you receive this Christmas will be genuine, some may be from criminals whose aim is to access your personal data and use it to defraud you out of money.

In most cases, e-cards sent by cyber criminals will contain viruses that are automatically downloaded when you open the card and will then embed themselves onto your electronic device without you even noticing.

The fraudsters behind the scam can then collect your personal data, financial information, passwords and usernames.

How can I avoid being caught out?

As a general rule, it is sensible to be wary of any emails you receive from unknown sources.

So if you receive an anonymous e-card, the official advice from Action Fraud is to play it safe and delete the email without opening it in case it is infected.

To protect your smartphone, tablet or computer from cyber attacks, it also makes sense to use a reputable anti-virus product that you update on a regular basis on your electronic device.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?

If you believe your electronic device has been infected by a virus sent with a Christmas e-card, the first step is to switch it off and disconnect from the internet to prevent further information being stolen.

Then change any log in details or passwords that may have been compromised. You should also report the fraud to Action Fraud – the City of London Police-based national reporting centre – on 0300 123 2040, while to get rid of the virus you can check out Cyber Streetwise for advice on free malware removal tools.

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