During last year's Christmas shopping period, from November 2019 to January 2020, in the UK cyber criminals made off with a total of £13.5 million as a result of online shopping fraud. This averaged out at £775 for each incident across 17,405 cases, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. No doubt the figures are comparable in other countries too.

Expect more of the same this year. Here are some top tips to keep you safe from Christmas scams this year.

Ever present phishing emails

The most obvious thing to look out for are phishing mails. These are likely to come from, or claim to be from, well-known retailers whether its online grocers, fashions, sports goods and so on. You need to check carefully to see whether these ‘enticing’ mails are the real deal.
  • Does the mail have an unfamiliar tone or greeting that doesn’t sit right or just sounds awkward?
  • Are there grammar and spelling errors? This is common giveaway, but some cyber-criminal groups are using native English speakers to ensure the grammar/spelling is spot on, so it’s not fool proof.
  • Are there inconsistencies in email addresses, links and domain names? If a link is embedded in the email, hover the pointer over the link to verify what ‘pops up’. If the email is allegedly from JD Sports but the domain of the link does not include the genuine website address, that is, “jdsports.co.uk” that’s a huge giveaway. If the domain names don’t match, don’t click.
  • Another scammer tactic to watch out for is the sense of urgency in phishing mails designed to encourage, or even demand, immediate action in a bid to harry the recipient into moving quickly. The scammer hopes that by reading the email in haste, the content might not be examined thoroughly.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links in unsolicited emails informing you of ridiculously good Christmas offers. This is a very common type of scam. The malware may steal your passwords, bank and credit card numbers and so on. These links might also take you to a bogus site where you’ll be asked to give your personal information. Cyber criminals can then use the information to steal your identity or log into your accounts, make changes and possibly transfer money.
Cyber security

It goes without saying, your devices need to be protected. Antivirus software to detect and block viruses and other malware is essential as well as a firewall to stop hackers from accessing your computer. BullGuard Internet Security not only provides multi-award winning antivirus protection and a firewall on steroids but also advanced machine learning to identify and block new malware as it develops.

On top of antivirus protection it’s important to apply updates to the software you are using particularly operating systems (OS). OS vendors issue updates that include patches for recently discovered vulnerabilities. As such it’s important to apply them before hackers exploit the flaws.

Gift card offers

Gift cards are ideal when you’re struggling to know what to buy somebody. However beware of online gift card offers or sites asking for personal, financial or payment information. There are sure to be plenty popping up in the run up to Christmas. Only buy gift cards from trusted sources.

Found a new online retailer?

There is no way to guarantee that a new online retailer is reputable. However, there are ways to avoid doing business with unreliable retailers and avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime. This entails doing your due diligence first by checking online reviews and ratings for the business. If in doubt, it’s much safer to shop with retailers that you know and trust than new or unfamiliar businesses.

Wi-Fi shopping

Don’t log into your bank account when using public computers or public Wi-Fi, for example, at a coffee shop, in-store or in a shopping centre unless you’re using a VPN, which is strongly advised. A VPN protects your data by encrypting as it leaves your smartphone and arrives at a website.

It’s easy for hackers to set up Wi-Fi points in busy places such as shopping centres, airports and train stations. They do this in order to steal customer data which can, and often does, include passwords, email addresses and payment card numbers.

  • When looking for online bargains, look for symbols on the site (such as the padlock on the URL bar of your browser or ‘https’) to confirm that the website you are visiting is safe and secure.
  • Choose strong user IDs and passwords that are easy for you to recall but hard for cyber criminals to guess. This means not using your birthday or your name. The strongest passwords have a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
Safe shopping.