Six simple precautions will protect shoppers from holiday scams, cyber security officials say

Adam Smith
·2-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

People purchasing Christmas presents online have been urged by the government to follow new cyber awareness guidance to protect themselves from scams.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) launched the advertising campaign, called Cyber Aware, after tens of thousands of people were the victims of online fraud.

Statistics by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show that last year, there were 17,405 incidents of online fraud during the Christmas shopping period.

This equated to £13.5 million being stolen from shoppers, with an average of £775 per case.

The campaign encourages people to take precautions to protect their online accounts and devices. These include:

  • Using a strong and separate password for email accounts

  • Creating strong passwords using three random words

  • Saving passwords in the browser

  • Turning on two-factor authentication (2FA)

  • Updating devices and apps

  • Regularly backing up personal data

Strong passwords do not need to be difficult to remember; a unique phrase, such as “correcthorsebatterystaple” can be harder to break than one with latters, numbers, and special characters.

Two-factor authentication is also a useful tool, as it means that scammers cannot access accounts using only one device – they must also have a second to verify the login.

“If it feels suspicious or unusual it may well be – and that is why, at Microsoft, we recognise the importance of Cyber Aware behaviours like multi-factor authentication and having strong and secure passwords”, said Sian John, Chief Security Adviser at Microsoft UK, one of the companies supporting the scheme.

Vodafone, BT, ASOS, Barclays and Citizens Advice are also promoting the campaign and encouraging their customers to enact adequate protections.

“As more of us than ever will be shopping online over the festive period, people need to be on the lookout for scammers who will use malicious and sophisticated tactics to try and spoil their Christmas” said Adam French, a consumer rights expert at Which?

“Shoppers should follow the number one rule - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A well-known product being sold at a fraction of its standard price is one of the telltale signs that it’s unlikely to be legitimate.

“Take a closer look at these websites too, particularly if the brand name is unknown. Fake sites are often full of spelling mistakes, or generic images that don’t relate to what’s being sold – so steer clear if you spot any of these warning signs.

"People need to be particularly careful when following ads in search engines or social media, as Which? has found scam adverts have tricked almost one in ten people into paying out for sham purchases."

This comes at a time when “gift exchange” scams are spreading across social media.

The scams – sometimes going by the name “secret sister” –are similar to honest gift exchanges; however, they in fact something like a pyramid scheme: only sustainable as long as somebody else is getting ripped off.

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