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Today marks the peak for UK consumers shopping online. Today and every Monday for the next three weeks are likely to see bumper online sales. Predictions are that consumers could spend as much as £7.75bn.

Woman Shopping Online

This year’s online Christmas purchases will represent an increase of 14% from the same period last year. This is an excellent period for e-tailers and an opportunity for bargain hunters but it is also a prime opportunity for fraudsters wanting to separate innocent members of the public from their hard earned cash.

According to figures compiled by the National Fraud Authority's Action Fraud and the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), at least 37% of adult consumers have experienced online shopping fraud since the beginning of 2011. NFA research has found that young professional men can be vulnerable to online fraud due to taking risks with their personal details. Although generally online savvy, this group may use unfamiliar sites or sites lacking security. 74% of this group have experienced online shopping fraud. This is twice the UK average. Another key statistic about this group is that they are likely to have been scammed more than four times.

Online shopping is evolving with the convenience of using mobile applications to shop. However this opens up new fraud risks with regard to malware whereby malicious software can be downloaded onto mobile devices. Savvy consumers are usually aware that some websites may not always be what they appear particularly those promoting digital products. However, even the most confident online shopper can be caught out by professional fraudsters for whom the Christmas period is one of the best times to cash in on risk taking. The other side of this is the vulnerability of shoppers who can be nervous of technology particularly the internet and can be drawn into risk taking through a lack of knowledge and experience.

Consumers should look out for the warning signs that a website may not be secure. The NFA and the City of London police encourage online shoppers to think about security especially when using new websites and sites that offer deals that are too good to be true.

Stephen Harrison, CEO, of the National Fraud Authority, advises, “Whatever time of year the NFA urges all consumers to shop securely online. We are all used to accessing the internet and the convenience of purchasing products and services via the web. Although some of us are more expert in finding our way round, we all need to ensure that safety and security are primary concerns. Consider the option of using a separate card for online shopping. Safeguard your personal details especially passwords and PIN numbers.”

City of London Police and the National Fraud Authority warn that particularly popular items this year may be used to entice bargain hunters onto hoax sites. Amongst top selling products via reputable e-tailers like Amazon and Marks and Spencer are DVDs, Blue Ray, Kindle, iPads, wallets and wine tasting kits.

If consumers venture away from familiar sites, Stephen Harrison offers the following suggestions: “Always make sure that up-to-date anti-virus software is installed on your computer and that the firewall is switched on.”

For less experienced internet users, help is usually available from internet service providers with regard to firewalls. Anti-virus software can be purchased and downloaded online and further protection is available by registering with Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode. American Express card members can register for their SafeKey process. Consumers should always look for the padlock or unbroken key symbol when first visiting a site.

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head leads the City of London’s Police’s Economic Crime Directorate, offers further advice, “Shopping online can be a great way to buy your Christmas presents, but it's important to take a minute to make sure you're using a legitimate website. A few basic checks can ensure that your presents end up under a Christmas tree, and not in a fraudster's stocking.”

Fraud crime can happen to anyone at any time of year. The Christmas season often sees a peak in financial loss and theft of personal information.

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head explains, “The City of London Police is already identifying and targeting fraudsters who commit crime at Christmas time. You can help us to do more - if you think you've been a victim to online shopping fraud then let us know by reporting it to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau via Action Fraud and most of all, make sure you take note of Action Fraud's tips for shopping safe online.

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 on to the police.

See also
Online shopping fraud

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