11/12/2018 12:22 GMT

How Not To Fall Victim To A Scam While Christmas Shopping Online This Year

If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

We live in an increasingly digital age and much of our lives are spent online – and that includes Christmas shopping. In fact, Brits are expected to spend up to £300 each on gifts online this year as they swap the busy high street for convenience, according to recent research from Royal Mail.

But even if you’re a seasoned online deal hunter, you should still be wary of scams that could leave you out of pocket. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to trick you out of your hard-earned cash.

Fraudsters conned 15,024 shoppers out of more than £11 million over the Christmas period last year, according to Action Fraud – so here are five things to consider before entering those card details.

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1. Make Sure Your Computer Is Security Protected

Make sure you’ve installed the latest (genuine) software and app updates, Action Fraud says. Criminals use weaknesses in software to attack your devices and steal information, such as your payment details. 

It’s also important to use strong, separate passwords for your online accounts to protect yourself. Criminals can use your email password, for example, to access other online accounts, such as those you use for shopping. Enabling two-factor authentication (an extra layer of security which can include needing to enter a code sent to your phone to access your account) can help give you better security. 

Crucially, be sure not to click on a link in an unexpected email. The volume of online shopping related phishing emails increases during the holiday period, and Action on Fraud warns that by clicking on them they could infect your computer or smartphone with viruses and malware.

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2. If You’re Buying Electrical Goods Or ‘Designer’ Clothes From A Marketplace, Think Twice

Mobile phones are the most common item that people tried to buy from fraudsters on online marketplaces last year, according to Action Fraud. Victims reported being hooked in with bargain deals on some of the most popular models of smartphones, only for the phone to never actually arrive. Apple iPhones accounted for 74% of all mobile phones purchased that turned out to be fraudulent.

Games consoles, designer clothes and computers also featured in many of the reports. Apple MacBooks and UGG Boots were frequently reported as being sold by scam artists who took the cash but simply didn’t deliver them.

3. Ask Yourself: Is The Deal Too Good To Be True?

Criminals use two main techniques to scam you during the festive season: rock-bottom prices and email scams, security site NordVPN says. If the deal seems too good to be true – it probably is. Extremely low rates, when compared to similar stores, may mean that the website exists only to get your personal information.   

When making an online payment or entering any personal information, the first thing you should check is whether the webpage URL starts with ‘https’ rather than ‘http’. The ‘s’ means that the connection is more secure.

Ideally, you should stick to websites you trust or have bought from before. Otherwise, do the research: Does the company interact on social media? Are there any customer reviews? Are there any spam complaints? Check their email, phone number or address – if you can’t find any of those, it might be a fake company.

4. Don’t Fall Victim To Fake Deals Sent On Social Media 

Many bogus offers pop up in people’s social media feeds and messages, e.g. Alton Towers and Ryanair giving away free tickets on WhatsApp, Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert warns.

Instead of trusting an offer that looks too good to be true, go to the company’s genuine website and see if you can find the deal that way. If it’s not there, it’s probably a scam. And remember, some fraudsters can create convincing fakes of genuine sites, so look out for the signs it might not be legitimate. 

5. Beware How You Pay

The safest way to pay for anything is via credit or debit card, Martin Lewis says. Credit cards are covered by Section 75 protection which means if goods cost £100 to £30,000 then by law, the credit card firm is jointly responsible, which means you have a route to try to get your money back. But if you pay by bank transfer, cash, cheque or vouchers then unfortunately you will have little protection.

If you do become a victim of online fraud, call your bank to make sure any recurring payments are cancelled, report the scam to the police through Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or anonymously on its website, and speak to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506 or the Financial Conduct Authority’s helpline on 0800 111 6768.