How to spot fraudsters when shopping online at Christmas

Online shoppers are more likely to take a financial risk if a retailer offers them what looks like a bargain
Online shoppers are more likely to take a financial risk if a retailer offers them what looks like a bargain
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The Christmas shopping frenzy is well under way, but what would you do if you saw a great bargain online? Would you leave it for a few minutes to have a think, or would you click “buy” before anyone else can snap it up?

If you’d do the latter, you may find yourself playing straight into a fraudster’s hands.

The internet can be a great place to get a good deal and online retailers have all sorts of “too good to miss” and “limited time” offers in the run-up to Christmas.

But it seems many of us are tempted to shrug off the sense of caution we may normally feel before using a website we’re unfamiliar with if it means grabbing a “bargain”.

This can be a dangerous move, as criminals use the busy festive shopping period to entice people into handing over their debit and credit card details on fake retail websites.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of online shoppers admit they’re more likely to take a financial risk if a retailer offers them what looks like a bargain, according to a survey from Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK).

People aged between 16 and 34 years old are particularly likely to be at risk, with nearly half (46 per cent) saying they would take a chance.

From its research, FFA UK estimates there are potentially 15 million online shoppers across the UK who could be putting themselves at risk of financial fraud.

It’s not just fake retail websites you need to watch out for, as criminals will use scam emails or fake ads on social media or internet searches promising heavy discounts for desirable goods to trick people into visiting these websites.

Once someone has entered their details on such a website, fraudsters can use these details to go on spending sprees of their own.

You may not immediately realise you’ve been a fraud victim, as criminals can hang on to your details and use them when they like.

FFA UK’s figures show e-commerce card fraud in the first half of 2016 totalled an estimated £156 million, up 46 per cent compared to the first six months of 2015 – so it’s a big issue.

The research was carried out by FFA UK as part of a campaign called “take five”, which is backed by major banks and financial services providers.

The campaign encourages people to stop and think before making financial decisions – particularly when seeing “too good to be true” bargains.

Those behind the campaign suggest that if you’re using a retailer for the first time, take time to research them before giving them any of your details. Be prepared to ask questions before buying.

You should also suspect prices and offers that appear too good to be true as there’s often a catch.

The campaign says shoppers can make sure gift buying online is stress-free by doing the following:

 Check delivery timescales and keep records. Print out your order and keep copies of the retailer’s terms and conditions, returns policy, delivery conditions, postal address and phone number. Having this information to hand could help if you later have difficulties with your order.

 Keep your phone, tablet and PC protected by ensuring you have the latest operating system, firewall, browser, and up-to-date anti-virus software.

 Always log out properly from the website after you’ve finished shopping and save the confirmation email receipt as a record of your order in case there’s a problem.

 Keep receipts and check these against your statement – if you spot a transaction you did not authorise, speak to your provider immediately.

 Further help to protect against financial fraud is available at www.takefive-stopfraud.org.uk.