5 min read

Christmas countdown: how to avoid being defrauded when shopping online

John Fitzsimons
29 October 2018

Christmas sees Brits spend a small fortune; a study from GoCompare last year suggested that the average household shells out roughly £726 over the festive period, with more than half of that going on gifts.

Unfortunately, this sheer level of spending presents an opportunity for scammers.

According to the fraud experts at Action Fraud, nearly 15,500 people reported being victims of shopping fraud in the run-up to Christmas in 2016, with more than £16m being stolen. That was up by a whopping 45% on the year before.

If you want to avoid being ripped off, there are a number of simple steps you can follow.

Stick to reputable ticket sites

Picking up tickets to events like gigs or comedy shows is a popular option when it comes to Christmas presents. But this is an area where fraudsters have been particularly successful.

One way to reduce your chances of being caught out by these scams is to stick to reputable ticket sellers, from the likes of Ticketmaster to the promoters themselves. If it’s a ticket site you haven’t heard of, check that there is a landline phone number and a full postal address listed. If there’s only a PO box address and a mobile number, then you should avoid using them.

What’s more, when you come to pay, make sure that the payment page is secure. Check that the web address starts with ‘https’ and that there is a locked padlock icon in the address bar on the browser.

Sidestep holiday scams

It’s not uncommon to book up a big family holiday as a Christmas surprise. However, vast sums are lost each year to holiday booking fraud - as much as £6.7m a year, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

Scams can include advertising accommodation that doesn’t really exist, selling fake flight tickets, and even selling fraudulent packages associated with sports or religious events.

Look out for the ABTA or ATOL logos on travel websites to ensure that everything is above board if you’re planning to book a holiday, and we also recommend researching the firm involved, too.

Be careful on auction sites

According to Action Fraud, a significant amount of the money lost to fraud at Christmas time is on auction sites like eBay.

It’s easy to get caught up in apparent bargains listed on these sites, which is why it’s crucial that you take the time to consider whether the listing is too good to be true. If something appears to be too much of a bargain, then chances are it is either dodgy or a fake.

Do your research on the sellers too. If they have only just set up an account, or have a poor satisfaction rating, then be wary of buying from them,

When paying on these sites it’s also important to focus on paying with the likes of PayPal, as there is the option of some redress should things go wrong. Directly transferring money into the accounts of people you don’t know is asking for trouble.

Don’t be enticed into a phishing scam

Another way that scammers target those doing their Christmas shopping is with phishing scams. This is where you receive an email, supposedly from a legitimate company or person, but really it’s from a fraudster.

For example, you might get a message that appears to come from PayPal, eBay, Amazon or another retailer.

The aim of these emails is to try to get you to share your personal or account details. This way, the scammer can take control of your account with the retailer, or even commit identity fraud and take out financial products in your name.

As such it’s crucial that you are very wary about emails you receive, particularly ones that claim that your account is being locked. These messages may look genuine, but be sure to check the email address they have come from - this is often a giveaway that it’s a scam and should be reported.

Use a credit card

It’s worth remembering that purchases made with credit cards enjoy greater protection than those made with a debit card.

If you spend more than £100 on something - even if you only put £1 of that price on the credit card - then the card provider is equally liable to get you your money back if something goes wrong, such as the ‘retailer’ you bought from being a scammer.

by John Fitzsimons

John Fitzsimons is a freelance financial journalist who has been writing about money for more than a decade. appearing in the likes of the Sunday Times, the Mirror, the Sun and Forbes.

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