Why warnings about buying presents early will help the fraudsters

By Tim Mitchell, Content Director, Get Safe Online

I see that as early as mid-October, some retailers are urging us to buy anything from Barbie and Paw Patrol toys to electrical goods right now, as they may be in short supply owing to the logistical issues that currently seem to be plaguing us for one reason or another. Years in this job may have caused me to be a bit of a cynic, but apart from potentially panicking consumers into causing the toy and electrical goods version of the recent petrol ‘crisis’, every company wants to get money in the bank as early as possible, plus you need to watch out for opportunism in the form of inflated prices (I’m certainly not saying all retailers will be doing this … far from it).

However, an equally likely and infinitely more sinister threat is that of fraudsters taking advantage of the situation. The lead up to Christmas – including Black Friday and Cyber Monday – is their busiest time any year, exploiting the fact that we can be more excited, preoccupied or anxious (or all three) than usual. And we still have the spectre of the pandemic hanging over us.

The situation regarding buying early can only bring Christmas early for cybercriminals. They will exploit it by setting up fake retail websites, sending phishing emails and placing ads on social media platforms and auction / listing sites. This will happen on and around Black Friday, Cyber Monday and indeed, any other day in the run-up to Christmas. We may also see a rash of counterfeit toys and electrical goods, which can range from shoddy to downright dangerous.

To help protect you and your family, our experts have put together some top tips, which we urge you to read before starting your online present buying.

  • Make sure a website is authentic by carefully checking the address is spelled correctly. Ideally, type it in rather than clicking on a link in an email, text or post. It’s easy for scammers to set up fake websites that are very similar to the real thing.
  • Make sure payment pages are secure by checking that addresses begin with ‘https’ (‘s’ is for secure) and there’s a closed padlock in the address bar. The https and closed padlock mean that the page is secure, but the site could still be operated by fraudsters.
  • Social media sites/apps and online forums are a popular place for advertising gifts. Many are genuine, but you need to be aware that others are fraudulent. Be extra vigilant about checking that such ads are authentic.
  • However desperate you are to buy that late present or an item that’s in short supply, don’t pay for it by transferring money directly to people or companies you don’t know. If it’s a fraud, your bank may not be able to recover or refund your money. If you can, pay by credit card.
  • Log out of the web page or app when payment is completed. Simply closing it may not log you out automatically.
  • Don’t knowingly buy fake or counterfeit goods and do all you can to make sure brands you do buy are genuine. Fakes are of inferior quality, contravene copyright law and affect the livelihoods of workers who make the real thing. They can also be unsafe in use.
  • Learn how to spot fraudulent emails, texts or DMs, or fraudulent offers on social media. At this time of year, emails and other messages featuring ‘special offers’ and ‘prizes’ are commonplace. Don’t click on links in emails, texts or posts that you’re not expecting, and don’t open unexpected email attachments.
  • Text messages and emails purporting to be sent by home delivery firms are also on the increase, commonly informing you that there’s a charge for re-delivering a parcel, or a shipping fee to be paid. However busy you are or how much online shopping you do, keep a record of everything you buy and, if possible, which parcel delivery firm the retailer is using.

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