The days of the mad Christmas Eve shopping dash are numbered, with around 9 in 10 of us now doing at least some of our Christmas shopping online. And while this is great for saving time and stress, it can also be risky, with cyber criminals ready to take advantage of the huge spike in e-commerce during the festive season.
Cyber-crime and fraud is becoming more and more common and sophisticated, with hackers and fraudsters using numerous ingenious ways to get hold of your details, compromise your systems or con you out of money. And when we're busy, distracted (and slightly merry!) over the Christmas season, it is the perfect time for them to do it!
So, when you're shopping for those last-minute presents and sales bargains over the next couple of weeks, keep these pointers in mind:
- Only use trusted sites: There are so many sites out there nowadays that it can be hard to keep track. But if you don't recognise the name, or it looks untrustworthy, make sure you do some digging before you snap up that exclusive products or amazing bargain. First of all, check for the locked padlock symbol in the URL and that it has an https:// web address (rather than just http://), as this will confirm it's secure (as denoted by the s). Also, check that there are contact details for the vendor on the site, and do a quick search of consumer reviews for any red flags.
- Keep software up-to-date: Check that your anti-virus software, anti-spyware and firewall are all up-to-date (or invest in them if you don't have them!) and avoid using public computers and Wi-Fi networks, which are more vulnerable to hackers. Protect your own Wi-Fi network with a password and encryption.
- Mobile shopping: More and more of us are shopping on mobiles and tablets, so it's equally important to invest in anti-virus software for these, and be sure to keep it updated. It's also essential to keep your phone password protected and don't save any passwords or financial data on your mobile device in case it gets stolen or hacked. We think nothing of downloading apps for our devices nowadays, but make sure these are always from an official store, such as the App Store or Google Play, plus check reviews and ratings for any potential issues. Finally, switch the Bluetooth functionality off when you're not using your device, as this can make it easier to hack.
- Payments: Paying by credit card is the most secure option for large purchases, as anything between £100 and £30,000 is automatically protected by the credit card company, meaning you're safe if your goods don't arrive, or there is something wrong with them. Debit cards are usually part of the Chargeback Scheme, which gives you some rights to claim your money back, while Paypal has a buyer protection feature, whereby you can claim for goods up to the value of £250. You should NEVER transfer money directly to the seller as you have no way of getting your money back if anything goes wrong.
- Malicious e-cards: You're likely to receive plenty of e-cards over the festive period, with businesses keen to wish you a 'Merry Christmas.' However, watch out for their evil cousin, known as malicious e-cards, which aren't so jolly, and could infect your computer with malware to steal financial details, passwords or personal data. So, if you receive an e-card (or any email for that matter) from an anonymous source, don't click on it and delete it as soon as possible.
- Social media: Most of us will spend plenty of time on social media over Christmas, posting photos of the Turkey, Christmas hats and such like! We're also becoming more accustomed to being sold to via these platforms, with targeted adverts based on our likes, dislikes and personal details. However, alongside these genuine ads there has been a rise in bogus versions which, if clicked on, can lead you to scam websites. So, carry out the same checks as you would with any website you visit and don't click on or buy anything unless it's legitimate. Also, make sure you don't give away too much personal information on social media and keep your privacy settings high, to avoid having any of your details stolen and accounts compromised.
With more than 20 million cyber-attacks predicted against online retailers and shoppers during the last three months of 2016, that's a lot of Christmas stress that can be avoided by staying vigilant. Don't let it be you!