Pandemic restrictions, online deals and the countdown to Christmas could create the perfect storm for scamming consumers.
A number of cybersecurity and financial experts have issued stark warnings to online shoppers about the potential dangers when shopping online as Black Friday and Cyber Monday approaches.
In Ireland, the current Covid-19 restrictions mean that the majority of retail outlets are limited to online transactions, which will also increase online shopping.
In fact, almost 60pc of people say they will do more of their Christmas shopping online this year, according to new research from BPFI’s fraud awareness initiative, FraudSmart.
The research also highlighted a number of risky behaviours when online shopping. Brian Hayes, chief executive of BPFI urged consumers to be extra vigilant as its research shows that more than 90pc of card fraud takes place online or using telephone or mail order.
“As Covid restrictions and the pre-Christmas rush draws thousands of shoppers online we are urging all consumers to take extra precautions when shopping online this year,” he said.
So, what do consumers need to know when it comes to staying safe while shopping online?
1. Use secure websites
FraudSmart’s research found that more than a third (35pc) of respondents rarely or never check the security of the website on which they are shopping and 43pc rarely or never read online retailers’ terms and conditions.
When shopping online, make sure the website address starts with ‘https’ before the purchase is made, indicating a secure connection. You should also use sites where a padlock symbol is shown beside the website address.
2. Visit websites independently
Almost 40pc of respondents in FraudSmart’s research said they sometimes or always click links from social media adverts rather than visiting the relevant website independently. If you see an attractive ad on social media, avoid clicking on the ad directly and instead, look up the site on its own.
Consumers should also stick to well-known websites or websites that you are familiar with or websites associated with high street retail outlets. If you are shopping at a site you haven’t used before, do your research first. Check for those security markers as always and look for other signs of legitimacy, such as a business address.
3. Avoid public Wi-Fi for purchases
Another fraud survey from Ulster Bank found that nearly one in five (18pc) have purchased items online when using public Wi-Fi.
Consumers should never use public Wi-Fi when making payments or accessing sensitive information. Public Wi-Fi is often vulnerable to malware, low security, unencrypted networks and ‘man in the middle’ attackers, which is essentially a form of online eavesdropping.
Always use a private, secure network when making purchases or inputting bank details or passwords. If possible, switch to 3G or 4G on your phone.
4. Beware of outrageous offers
Big discounts and sales often go up around major shopping periods such as Christmas and Black Friday. However, consumers are advised to be wary of seemingly outrageous offers or discounts. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
5. Watch out for suspicious emails
Even outside of the immediate purchase, consumers should be vigilant for scams in their emails, as Proofpoint research shows that 89pc of the UK’s top retailers are leaving online shoppers open to email scams ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday by not proactively blocking fraudulent emails from reaching customers.
Proofpoint’s EMEA cybersecurity strategist, Matt Cooke, said: “Email continues to be the vector of choice for cybercriminals and the retail industry remains a key target”.
“Consumers must be vigilant in checking the validity of all emails, especially on a day when guards are down, and attentions are focused on grabbing seasonal bargains.”
As well as being extra vigilant at this time of year, consumers should continue to exercise good password hygiene by choosing strong, unique passwords for each site and changing them regularly.
You should also always read the terms and conditions of retailers before purchasing items and keep a copy of order statements and receipts.