Staying Safe on Cyber Monday

28/11/2014 15:00 GMT | Updated 28/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Cyber Monday, which this year falls on 1 December, is one of the busiest online shopping days of the year - for consumers and fraudsters alike. With more and more of us living connected lives, less people are shopping on the high street. Christmas shopping is now far more synonymous with sitting in the comfort of your own home, avoiding the crowds and browsing for the best deals for your friends and loved ones.

Since it's the most popular day for consumer shopping, it is also the best and most opportunistic time for cybercriminals. With a quarter of purchases expected to be made online,[1] the question becomes not how safe are our wallets or purses from pickpockets, but how vulnerable are our devices? We now use a multitude of devices to browse and purchase items online. This could be our mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer; all of which provide cybercriminals with an opportunity to gain access to our finances, personal details and online identity.

In fact, research shows that 1 in 6 of us has been a victim of a cyber-attack. [2] Unfortunately, many people still don't install Internet security software to secure their online activities. Yet, it's vital that we lock down our devices and online lives just as much as our real-life possessions. In 2013, it was reported that the cost to customers from online shopping fraud over Christmas amounted to a huge £9.5 million. [3] So, shoppers could be spending much more than they planned this Christmas if they don't take the correct precautionary measures.

A recent study [4] has highlighted the top five risks for Christmas shoppers:

1. Mobile/Smart phones - specifically iPhone and Samsung Galaxy

2. Games consoles - specifically Playstation 4 and Xbox One

3. Footwear - specifically Ugg Boots

4. Clothing - specifically Barbour jackets

5. iPads and IPad minis

Christmas is a time when we all look for bargains. But remember that if an offer looks too good to be true, that usually means it probably is. Think before you click.

But you don't have to see online Christmas shopping as a minefield. You can make it a safe experience by adopting the following top tips:

1. Secure your devices using Internet security software.

2. Make sure you apply security updates to your operating system and applications as soon as they are available.

3. Only use secure sites. Look for a URL beginning with 'HTTPS://' - that's 'S' for SECURE. Look also for a closed padlock on the web browser's address bar - by clicking or double-clicking on it you will be able to see details of the site's security.

4. Use a unique password for every online site - use a mixture of letters, numbers and special characters and make sure they're at least 15 characters long. Here are some tips to help you.

5. Don't click on random links in e-mails - it's better to type in a URL yourself, to avoid the risk of ending up on a phishing site.

6. Stick to familiar brands that you know or have heard of. But even then you need to take care - criminals often deliberately misspell the name of their fake websites to make it look like a familiar top brand company.

7. If you do buy from a new vendor, research it carefully. A good test is to see if they can be contacted if the order goes wrong - look for an e-mail, a phone number, an address and a returns policy. A vendor's feedback history is another good sign of their honesty and reliability.

8. Use extra caution when using your mobile device for online purchases. Shortened URLs, often used because they are phone-friendly, can hide the fact that they lead to a risky site.

9. Avoid using untrusted public Wi-Fi hotspots for confidential transactions like online shopping - public Wi-Fi networks are common places for hackers to sneakily intercept your information.

10. Ensure that your children do not have access to your online accounts, and make sure they can't access to your credit card and bank information.

[1] Experian 2014

[2] Experian 2014

[3] Figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB)

[4] Research commissioned by Get Safe Online and One Poll in October 2014 as part of Get Safe Online's annual awareness week