Oh the weather outside it frightful
Online shopping is so delightful
And that’s when your guard is low
Scammers know, scammers know, scammers know.
Buying gifts for loved ones during the holiday season can be a huge source of anxiety and stress for many of us, particularly focusing on stretching finances and finding the time in our already busy schedules. Over recent years, online shopping has relieved some of these feelings. With a world of products at our fingertips, and often at lower prices than you’d find on the High Street, we no longer need to venture out into the cold and the crowds. Even with these benefits, however, finding that perfect present, sticking to your budget and keeping track of deliveries is a minefield!
With our brains distracted and tired, this makes the festive period the perfect time for online scammers to take advantage. According to a recent Which? article, almost a quarter of 18-34 year olds have fallen prey to an online shopping scam in the past five years and, on average, victims stand to lose roughly £661. These sad but true facts illustrate how important it is to remain vigilant, even during the season of ‘goodwill’.
In this article I will explore a few things to look out for and how you can protect yourself this Christmas.
An official looking e-mail address and a random ‘purchase number’ are often all a scammer needs to go phishing, and online shopping inevitably leads to an inbox FULL of notifications. Receipts, tracking, feedback requests – you’d be forgiven for not checking every single one under a microscope. But there a few things to look out for!
You can contact a company direct to see if the e-mail is genuine. Met Police warn against ‘using the contact details or live chat functions on the email received’, instead go through the original website and find contact details there.
If an e-mail has a link to log into your account, NEVER click this! Scammers will use the details you enter on their fake website to log into your accounts. Instead, go through the official site by typing the usual URL directly into your internet browser.
Logging into your accounts in this way is a great way to check order details as well. If you receive an e-mail claiming there is a problem with your order, check your account first!
Scammers rely on you being too busy to watch out for these things, or simply panicking because you think that extra special gift might be stuck in customs somewhere. It is really easily done, so my advice is to check your online accounts for tracking, check your bank and don’t rely too heavily on your emails to tell you what’s what.
Ever see an offer that seems too good to be true? Well, very often, it is. This is particularly true of auction sites or online marketplaces. Sellers will advertise a popular item at a bargain price when in fact the product they are really selling either doesn’t fit the description or doesn’t even exist. While tempting to snatch that deal quickly, do your research first. Compare the price with other sites to see if there is an unreasonable difference. Check the image of the item is genuine; again, the Met Police warn that ‘Fraudsters often use stock images or other people’s images. You can check if images appear elsewhere on the internet through websites like TinEye or reverse.photos.’
Be weary of sellers who encourage you to pay for your order via direct bank transfer or have suspicious sounding reviews (either predominantly negative or lots of recent, positive reviews that sound similar). They are likely to take your money without sending you your goods or send you faulty items and then not cooperate in the returns/refunds process. You may not even be able to reach them again. To protect yourself against this always use a recommended and official third party payment site, e.g. Paypal, which can often help you reclaim your money if something goes wrong with your order. Failing that, use your credit card instead direct bank transfers, as this also offers some insurance against such scams.