As Christmas looms closer, more of us are rushing online to buy that last-minute present, book a break or stock up on food.
But before you click the “buy” button, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is also a time when fraudsters gear up to sting people trying to bag a bargain during internet shopping frenzies.
A campaign, launched by Action Fraud, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online is warning of the dangers of online crime this Christmas.
Figures from last Christmas show that people and businesses reported losing nearly £16.5 million to online fraudsters through online shopping and auction fraud. That’s a hefty 42% increase compared with the 2013 festive period.
Mobile phones are a particularly common item bought and sold by fraudsters.
People reported trying to get good deals on some of the most popular smart phone models, but what they thought was going to be a bargain never arrived, thanks to cruel cons that left them without presents to give on Christmas day.
Other victims reported being defrauded whilst trying to buy footwear, clothing, watches, gaming consoles, computers, furniture and home electricals.
Police national coordinator for economic crime, commander Chris Greany says the fact that victims lost 42% more money last year compared to the year before suggests fraudsters are “taking every opportunity they can during the festive period”.
Here are some top tips for shopping safely online this Christmas:
• If something seems too much of a bargain, it could be poor quality or may not even exist. Always check payment pages are secure, and log out when you’ve finished shopping online.
• When making a purchase from an auction website, use insured payment methods like PayPal. Never make a bank transfer to someone you don’t know. Do all you can to check the seller is authentic. And look out for fake goods.
• If you’re going to a gig this Christmas, be careful where you buy the ticket from. Figures from Action Fraud show that concert-goers and sports fans have collectively lost nearly £1.3 million in the last six months due to ticket fraud. The typical loss per victim was £205 - but some people suffered much higher losses, running into thousands of pounds. Be wary if previously advertised sold-out tickets are on sale, and make sure you research the company you are buying from.
• Scam emails, calls, texts and posts are getting cleverer and you may well get some over Christmas. Think twice before you get talked into anything, however busy you are.
• Make sure any passwords you use are not easy to guess. Don’t use the same password for more than one account or share it with anyone else.
• Secure Wi-Fi is vital for your privacy. At home, check your router security settings.
• Don’t sign up for “free” or “low-cost” trial goods without thoroughly reading the small print. You could be signing up for massive direct debits.
• Beware festive greetings emails you’re not expecting as they could be a scam. Don’t open attachments or click on links on emails that you suspect. And be careful with ecards as they can also be fraudulent.
• Don’t pick up a nasty Christmas virus. A cough or a cold is bad enough, but make sure your computer is also protected from viruses. Always have internet security software and apps switched on and updated - and make sure this is also the case for any new gadgets you get over Christmas.
People can report frauds to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.