Action Fraud, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online are warning consumers to take extra care when shopping online for tablets, games consoles, electrical items and other Christmas gifts.
Last Christmas, fraudsters conned consumers out of more than £12 million through online shopping and auction scams. Action Fraud received more than 10,000 reports, with the average loss to victims more than £1,700.
Record numbers are expected to log-on for Christmas shopping this year, in turn creating opportunities for retailers and bargain hunters but also presenting opportunities for fraudsters.
Security minister James Brokenshire said: “We are taking the fight to cyber criminals with the newly-created National Cyber Crime Unit, which is part of the National Crime Agency, but the public should also stay vigilant to ensure they don’t lose their hard-earned money on fakes and frauds. Following straightforward steps while shopping online will help the public to avoid cyber fraudsters.”
Brokenshire added: “Shoppers can find great bargains online ahead of Christmas, and this time of year provides a welcome boost to retailers, but shoppers should remember if something looks too good to be true that’s often the case.”
Looking out for the warning signs
Action Fraud experts say that even the most confident online shopper can be caught out by professional fraudsters. Fraudsters often target vulnerable shoppers who are unsure in using modern technology.
Consumers should look out for the warning signs that a website may not be secure. Action Fraud, Get Safe Online and the City of London Police (who run the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau) encourage online shoppers to be particularly careful when using new websites and sites that offer deals that look too good to be true.
By following these simple tips you can keep fraudsters at bay this Christmas:
1. Trust your instincts: if an offer looks too good to be true it usually is. Legitimate popular technology and designer items are rarely discounted
2. Check the URL in the web browser. Don’t be fooled by spoof websites where the address is slightly different
3. Ensure the website address begins ‘https’ at the payment stage (this indicates a secure payment)
4. Don’t access links in unsolicited e-mails. Always type in the website address or use a search engine to find a site
5. Only deal with reputable sellers. Only use sites you know or ones that have been recommended to you
6. Avoid paying by money transfers direct to people you don’t know. Use an online payment option such as PayPal which helps to protect you
7. Watch out for pop-ups appearing asking you to confirm your card details before you’re on the payment stage. Never enter your PIN number online
8. If your bid for an online auction item is unsuccessful, don’t be tempted to trade off-site if another seller approaches you with a similar item. This is likely to be a scam and you will not be covered
9. Keep security software and firewalls up-to-date. Regularly update your Internet browser when a new patch (security update) is released
10. Keep receipts and check these against your statement. If you spot a transaction you did not authorise speak to your card company immediately.
Scams change and adapt
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “£12.4 million is a huge amount of money to be lost to online fraud but, unfortunately, it’s the type of figure I see every year. The problem is, scams change and adapt as trends come and go. Scammers have also become more sophisticated as we get wiser to what is and isn’t legitimate so it’s understandable that people sometimes get caught out.”
Neate added: “We know how busy and stressful Christmas can be so we don’t want to overwhelm people with complicated advice, but we urge consumers to keep the basics in mind as a good preventative measure. It’s easy to get carried away when you spot a bargain online for that gift you’ve been all over the High Street trying to find, but take a step back and think before you buy it. Is it too good to be true?”
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Clark, director of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, commented: “Online shopping has revolutionised the way in which we buy our Christmas presents, with each year more and more people choosing to search for gifts over the Internet rather than heading to the shops. However, the result is that online fraud is top of the festive scam list.”
He continued: “To reverse this trend, we all need to be extra careful about what we’re buying online and from whom, especially if it is popular technology at a reduced price. By carrying out all the necessary checks you should guarantee that your presents will be enjoyed by friends and family and not lost to fraudsters.”
Items most at risk from fraud
Based on an analysis from last year, the items most sought after – and therefore most at risk from fraud – are smart phones. However, electronic goods in general, including computers, tablets, laptops, games consoles and e-readers were also very popular.
In January, the Government and partners will be launching a new campaign to increase public and small and medium enterprises’ confidence online by helping them to adopt simple changes to their online behaviour.
Private sector partners who have joined the campaign include Financial Fraud Action UK, Sophos, the RBS Group, Trend Micro and Facebook who are providing investment and support.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of this type of fraud, report it to Action Fraud so that the incident can be passed to the police.
Christmas shopping tips from Get Safe Online