It's the season of goodwill, but not everyone has read the memo. Here's how to avoid ecommerce scams at Christmas.
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As 2018 draws to a close, the festive season is in full swing. For most, Christmas is a time for giving, but for a very few unscrupulous individuals it is a time for taking too. Just last year the total loss to victims from fraud was set to reach over £1.3 billion over the holidays, with the average loss per person £893.
Many people will be buying gifts for friends and loved ones online. Low prices, access to an expansive marketplace and the increasing ease by which consumers can buy gifts online, are all fuelling an unprecedented level of online shopping for Christmas 2018.
However, with the threat of online fraud at an all-time high, it’s important to stay safe when shopping online this festive season:
Buy from reputable online retailers
Deloitte’s holiday retail survey found that online sales are likely to rise by 17-22% during the 2018 holiday season, with online purchases set to account for 57% of spending. Classified ad sites are popular because there are virtually no barriers to signing up and selling.
The sites themselves do not perform any checks on sellers; they rely on community members to rate and review the people they buy from. However, you cannot always trust the reviews and ratings on a seller’s profile.
In 2017, the Citizens Advice Bureau issued warnings about scammers writing fake reviews to make their own selling profiles appear reputable. The organisation’s report found that people were more likely to fall victim to ‘phantom scams’ than any other rogue investment scheme.
A phantom scam involves handing over money to an online seller when there is in fact no item to be bought in the first instance. On average, people are said to lose £1,100 to phantom scams.
Technology can be used to set up fake websites, which look to be genuine online retail stores. One of the biggest indicators that a website is a scam is the payment method. Before customers type their card details into a website, they should ensure the site is secure.
They can look out for a small padlock symbol in the address bar (or elsewhere in the browser window) and a web address beginning with https:// (the s stands for 'secure').
Consumers should take the time to make sure the websites they are buying from are legitimate.
Swapping details with sellers
Online marketplaces – a virtual meeting point which allow buyers and sellers to quickly find each other and arrange transactions - are a great place to find a bargain, as long as the seller is trustworthy and legitimate.
Technology already exists for two individuals—a buyer and a seller—to swap verified identity details with each other, before making a transaction. This gives both parties peace of mind that the person they are dealing with is genuine and legitimate; after all would a fraudster really want to disclose their real, verified details?
Whilst most transactions go smoothly, there has been enough media coverage recently of scams and ‘meetings gone wrong’ to suggest there is one deep flaw in the process; buyers and sellers have no simple and safe way to know who they are trading with online.
Therefore, if possible ask the buyer or seller to swap verified details first, before you make a payment or arrange to meet them in person to collect the item.
Security is absolutely key during the festive season, and whilst we know we should use stronger, unique passwords, it is not easy for individuals to remember lots of different, complicated passwords.
The number of recent data breaches is testament to the fact that passwords are just not adequate for protecting our online accounts. In 2017, 122 data records were stolen every single second (Breach Level Index, 2017).
It is clear a modern solution is needed to make life easier for the individuals, but harder for fraudsters.
With the development of password managers, help is at hand. They can securely store login details for online accounts - eliminating the need to remember usernames and passwords for each and every website.
Some password managers don’t even rely on a master password; instead using an individual’s unique biometrics to secure and access an encrypted store of their passwords. Not only does a password manager provide stronger security for our login details and online accounts, but it makes it easier and more convenient to login to our favourite websites.
With verified digital identities and secure password managers, buying from online marketplaces and auction sites will be safer, and individuals can benefit from the easy access digital purchasing brings.