Worried about staying safe online this Christmas? It’s a valid concern, with research from Experian showing that identity fraud has hit a 10-year high – rising by 22% compared with a year ago – and is set to peak over the festive shopping season.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of festive offers . It’s vital to stay alert to potential risks, so here we take a look at how you can stay safe as you spend.
Provided you stay sensible and bear in mind a few guidelines, then online shopping can be safe – but vigilance is key. Scammers are always looking for new ways to access your personal information, so make sure you don’t unwittingly give it to them.
For example, a tactic that’s growing in popularity is the “failed transaction” scam, where a fraudster pretends to be from a major online retailer and says that your transaction has failed and asks you to resubmit your bank details. They’re relying on the fact that many shoppers will be placing large orders on well-known websites at this time of year, and some may be tricked into thinking that the contact is legitimate.
“Identity theft and fraud is increasingly prevalent in the UK, and it’s never been more important for people to think twice about their personal information,” said Eduardo Castro, Managing Director Identity and Fraud, Experian UK&I.
Castro added all unsolicited messages should be approached cautiously unless you’re sure it’s genuine: “If there is an offer online which seems too good to be true, it more than likely is.”
A quick glance at the URL should give you some initial information – it should always start with “https” and there’ll be a padlock symbol in the address bar, signifying that your connection with the site is safe and secure. However, these days you need to be even more vigilant, and if it’s a site you haven’t used before, do a bit of digging beforehand to check that it’s genuine.
You can do this by:
If you’ve done your due diligence to check that the site is genuine and secure, then yes, it’s safe to use a debit or credit card online. However, many people choose to use third-party payment methods such as PayPal or Apple Pay to boost their online safety even more, thereby avoiding the need to input their card details into each site.
It’s also typically recommended to use credit cards rather than debit cards when shopping online, as doing so offers additional payment protection through the Consumer Credit Act (CCA). Under Section 75 of the CCA, purchases over £100 (but less than £30,000) will be covered should the item be faulty or fail to arrive – you can claim the money back through your credit card provider so you won’t lose out financially.
It’s worth noting too that you should avoid using virtual currencies for anything you buy online, as you’re highly unlikely to get your money back if you’re scammed.
Yes. With Apple Pay (or Google Pay if you’re on Android) your banking details are fully encrypted, with neither Apple nor the merchant having access to your data. This means hackers won’t be able to access your card details should the site or indeed Apple come under attack, and because it’s set to your own personal ID – often biometric – only you will be able to use it in the first place.
It’s age-old advice but it bears repeating – your passwords should be strong, difficult for someone to guess, regularly updated, and different for all accounts. Either use a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, or pick three entirely random words that you can string together, mixing up some of the characters as you go.
Never tell anyone your password or PIN, particularly for your financial accounts, and use a password manager to keep track of your various login details. This will encrypt your various passwords, store them securely and will even generate passwords for you.
Email scams are common and they can look disarmingly like the real deal. Never click on links or attachments unless you trust the content, and if you’re unsure, always verify the sender by looking for contact details online, never by using the details provided in the email. Essentially, you should be sceptical of everything, particularly unsolicited emails, even if they appear to be legitimate.
You should never give out personal information via phone call or email, even if someone’s claiming to be from your bank or the police, and if you’re asked to give the caller remote access to your computer, hang up immediately. Call 159 to check if the person claiming to be from your bank is genuine – this is a free hotline launched by Stop Scams UK, and it will connect you with your bank so you can be sure of the caller’s authenticity.
This may involve using two-factor authentication, which is where you’ll need to provide a username and password as well as an additional piece of information that’s unique to you. This could be in the form of biometrics (your fingerprint or voice, for example, or your iris via facial recognition software) or a code from a card reader that changes each time.
Only use secure sites that you trust – see the above section on how to tell if a website is legitimate – and don’t be pressured into buying a deal that seems too good to be true.
It’s all-too easy to share your entire life online, with social media letting us divulge information in a way we never would have done before. Just be careful how much personal information you share. Scammers can easily use that information to create a fake identity, target you directly or even access your accounts, and make sure to tighten your privacy settings so only those you trust can see your posts.
It’s vital to have some form of anti-virus software on your computer, and an ad-blocker is often recommended as well. You’ll often find this kind of software pre-installed on new machines, but it’s worth doing some research to see which ones would best suit your needs (not to mention your budget).
This is essential to make sure that there are no applications for credit made in your name that you didn’t authorise, and it’s particularly important if you’re worried that scammers have had access to your personal details. Check your credit score regularly, and in a similar vein, keep an eye on your bank statements to make sure there aren’t any suspicious transactions. The increasing functionality of online banking apps should make this easier than ever.
No matter how vigilant you are, sometimes there’s no getting away from a scammer. If you’ve been caught off-guard and have fallen victim to scam tactics, all may not be lost – check out these guides to find out more about online safety and what to do if you’re targeted.
Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.