This time of the year is a busy one for cyber scammers looking to steal money off unsuspecting victims shopping for loved-ones.
With Black Friday and Christmas fast approaching, people are being warned of web links to fraudulent websites posing as legitimate retailers and other sophisticated online scams.
Despite the end of lockdown, many people will be doing the bulk of their festive spend online this year, and criminals will see this as a chance to strike.
To help, West Sussex County Council’s Community Safety & Wellbeing Team and West Sussex Trading Standards are offering residents advice on how to stay safe from scams and have a fraud-free Christmas.
Choose carefully where you buy
It’s worth doing your homework on online retailers to check they’re legitimate. Check reviews and feedback from people or trusted organisations, such as consumer websites. Be alert to dubious websites which have self-written reviews. And never pay for items by transferring money directly to people’s bank accounts or companies you don’t know.
Pay with a credit card
If you have one, always use a credit card when shopping online. Major credit card providers protect online purchases and are obliged to refund you in certain circumstances. Using a credit card over a debit card also means that if your details are stolen, your main bank account won’t be directly affected.
Check what you share
You should only fill in mandatory details on a website when ordering online. These are usually marked with an asterisk (*), and usually include your delivery address and payment details. You shouldn’t have to give personal security details for your account – like your mother’s maiden name, or the name of your first school – to complete your purchase.
Keep your account secure
Using the same password for all your online accounts? Then you’re at risk. Fraudsters could steal your password from one account and use it to access more. Make sure your important accounts, such as your email account, online banking account, social media profile and payment accounts like PayPal are secured by strong, separate passwords that you don’t use anywhere else.
Watch out for suspicious emails, calls and text messages
You’ll most likely receive lots of messages from online stores by signing up to receive communications from them. But hiding amongst these genuine messages may well be bogus ones containing links designed to steal your personal details and money that are sophisticated and tricky to spot. Always double check website URL links and don’t click if they look suspicious.
What to do if you need help
If you’re worried that your credit or debit card has been used by someone else, let your bank know straight away. They can quickly block anyone using it. Remember to contact your bank using the official website or phone number. Never use the links or contact details in the message you have been sent or given over the phone.
Duncan Crow, County Council Cabinet Member for Community Support, Fire and Rescue said: “Whilst fraudsters are constantly at work, there are small changes we can all make to protect ourselves online. Please be safe online this Christmas, whether you’re shopping or staying in touch with loved ones.”
Richard Sargeant, West Sussex Trading Standards Team Manager said: “Scammers have always taken advantage of spikes in the shopping calendar to dupe unsuspecting customers.
“With more of us turning to festive shopping online, it’s vital that we all also understand the risks and know how to be protected.
“Following these simple steps can help you stay safe whilst shopping online and avoid being lured into Christmas scams that could seriously drain your bank account.”
Anyone concerned about scams can get advice from the Citizens Advice Scams Action helpline on 03444 111 444.