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Christmas Fraud: Thousands Risk Losing Everything Under The Tree In Online Shopping Threat

At Christmas, the sheer volume of transactions and abnormal spending patterns can be hard to keep track of. Large online shopping events can motivate cybercriminals to target bargain hunters in greater numbers.

Still searching for that last minute perfect Christmas gift? If so, it's likely you're one of millions of Brits still shopping online this festive period.

Lured by next-day delivery, online-only deals and last-minute bargains, shoppers are rejecting the chaos of the high-street. Instead we're opting in ever-greater numbers to shop online. And, for the first time this year, we're even using smartphones and tablets for the majority of our online purchases.

But, what should be the most joyful time of year can also be the most dangerous time of year for financial fraud. With the surge in online transactions, cybercriminals are looking to cash in on the Christmas cheer. One phoney website could end up leaving you hundreds, even thousands of pounds out of pocket.

So, how big is the problem?

Online fraud is a growing problem in the UK; according to Norton's latest research, 8 percent of Brits have had their financial information stolen as a result of shopping online, whilst 14 percent have had it happen to someone they know.

At Christmas, the sheer volume of transactions and abnormal spending patterns can be hard to keep track of. Large online shopping events can motivate cybercriminals to target bargain hunters in greater numbers.

Yet, despite the risks and potential costs of cybercrime, Norton has found that Brits affected by cybercrime in the past year are the most likely to continue engaging in risky online behaviours, leaving themselves vulnerable to further attacks. Many are still willing to click on links from senders they don't know or open malicious attachments.

So what are the risks? And how to avoid them.

When shopping online, don't be caught unaware. Recurring scams are simply avoided, but you must first be able to recognise them.

Cybercriminals commonly send phoney emails. Over the Christmas period you may receive emails stating that you have just received a package from the post office or a well-known shipping vendor. Be wary of this and any message that asks you to fill out a form or provide any personal information.

Another scam comes in the form of offer alerts. Whilst millions of us frequently use online vouchers and money-off codes, watch out for offers that seem too good to be true. These often lead to a malicious website where you'll be asked for your credit card information and other personal data.

A lot of these fake offers will try to lure you in with promises of winning free gifts. If you've never heard of the company, or if the known company's logo looks slightly different in some way, get out of there. You might also receive emails or texts about this year's hot or hard-to-get gift items that will lead you to rogue websites. These scams can also show up on social networking sites too.

It's not just email, danger can come in the form of text phishing. This is where scammers send texts, pretending to warn people of suspicious financial activity asking you to call a bogus number -- where they'll ask you for sensitive information. If you receive one of these, contact your financial institution directly rather than using the number the text provides. That way, you know you're really talking to your bank or credit card company, not a scammer. Similarly, keep an eye out for vishing. It's just like phishing, except it occurs over the phone. When unsolicited callers contact you, always ask what business they're calling from, then hang up and call that institution's actual phone number listed on its website.

Furthermore, if you're doing a lot of online shopping, you may have already come across fake refunds. These emails could look like they're from a legitimate retailer and say something like "wrong transaction" or "click for refund". But, the culprits just want you to click through, surrender your details or open your device up to malware.

Lastly, watch out for fake websites. Phoney shopping sites can be hard to spot. Even legitimate sites can be hijacked. Fake sites often rely on shoppers mistyping the genuine web addresses of popular websites or clicking on messages from phoney vendors who have a similar address. To avoid this, simply slow down and check what you've clicked or typed.

Top Tips to stay safe whilst shopping online

• If it's too good to be true, it probably is - We all love a bargain and cybercriminals know this as well. Don't fall for the cheap price tag - as free or discounted goods could end up being really costly. Cybercriminals are experts at creating websites and making them look identical to your favourite brand sites.

• Beware of fake website links - Don't try and save time gift shopping by clicking on links in an email which appear to take you to your favourite online store. Instead make sure you type the store's address straight into your browser.

• Be smart with your passwords - Use a complex password for each online account you have and update your passwords regularly. Strong passwords use a mixture of numbers, symbols, and letters in upper and lower case, such as "Ru1)oLp1-1".

• Organise your online shopping - Set up an email account specifically to deal with online shopping. Provide as little information as possible to get the account set-up and don't use it for anything else such as online banking, business correspondence or family matters.

• Protect your bank details - Always look out for the 'padlock' icon at the bottom of the browser frame when making a payment online. This symbol indicates that the website you are visiting uses encryption to protect you, so cybercriminals cannot capture your personal information. Never let a website 'remember' your credit card details, always retype them if you want to shop there again.

• Online payments - Even though it is the season of goodwill, avoid using public or shared computers, or even a wireless network to make a payment online. Hackers can easily capture your account information, log-in details and steal your money. Use a separate credit card with a small credit limit for online purchases.

• Check your statements - Always check your credit card statements as often as possible to look out for unexpected transactions.

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