The internet is a fantastic resource for people searching for that special something for friends, family and loved ones in the run up to Christmas but it also presents opportunities for fraudsters to set up scams.
Every year there is a spike in financial loss as a result of cyber crime around the festive period due to an increase in people shopping online.
In Warwickshire, from 1 November, 2015, until the end of February 2016, 86 reports of online shopping and auction fraud were made to Action Fraud, resulting in a total loss of £78,516.
We do not want to put people off using the internet to buy their gifts - if used safely it is an excellent resource - but we do want people to take some simple but effective steps to help protect themselves against falling victim to online crime.
On December 1, 2014, Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police launched the #Be Cyber Smart campaign to raise awareness of internet-related crime and to give people the knowledge they need to protect themselves.
The first phase focuses on online shopping; urging people to carry out a few simple safety checks before parting with their hard-earned cash.
We have joined forces with Get Safe Online to encourage people to follow their '12 Online Safety Tips of Christmas'.
1. Don't Transfer Money
Always pay for items you buy online by card on a secure payment page, by cheque or by cash, in person. However desperate you are to secure an item, never transfer money into the seller's account, as you may never see the goods or your money ever again.
2. Check that Payment Pages are Secure
Before you enter your card details on a payment page, make sure it is secure by checking that the address starts with 'https' (the 's' stands for 'secure') and there's a padlock or unbroken key symbol in the browser window.
3. Use a Credit Card
Still talking about payments, remember that you have more chance of getting your money back in the event of problems if you pay by credit card rather than debit card. Some sellers may charge a premium, but it could well be worth the extra for your peace of mind.
4. Use Auction Sites Safely
At Christmas time, many of us buy from online auction sites. Always use trusted and well-known payment methods instead of paying sellers directly. Read the site and seller's conditions. And for your personal safety if you're collecting in person, take someone with you or let people know where you're going.
5. Check Out Bargains With Care
If you find or are emailed about an item that seems just too much of a bargain, it could be a scam, fake goods or it doesn't match the description. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
6. Use Social Networks Safely
Social networks are a popular medium for scams - and are becoming increasingly so. If you see a post promising something free of charge, free entry to a Christmas competition with a fantastic prize or perhaps an offer that seems just too good to be true, consider very carefully before following it up.
7. Use Email Safely
An email urging you to click on a link to reveal a special offer, to open an attachment containing some great news, or to "confirm details" or "reset your account", could well be a scam, even if it appears to come from a reputable source. If in doubt, delete the email and don't respond to or forward it.
8. Look After That New Smartphone or Tablet
If you're buying or get bought a new smartphone or tablet, protect it by downloading a reputable internet security app, and make sure it's safeguarded with a PIN. Install parental control software on kids' mobile devices, and chat to them about how to use the internet safely.
9. Remember To Log Out
When you've finished your online shopping or banking session, always log out of the website or app... it only takes a second. Sometimes, just closing the window doesn't mean you've logged out, and someone else could gain access to your account and personal details. Don't forget to check and save purchase confirmation emails.
10. Make Sure Wi-fi Is Secure
At home or other premises you know, make sure the Wi-Fi is secured before doing anything confidential online. When you're out and about - in the café, the pub or a hotel for example - you can't guarantee it's secured even if you have to enter a code. When you're shopping, banking or making other online payments, it's better to connect with 3G or 4G, even if it's slower.
11. Beware of Scam Phone Calls
If someone posing as a retailer calls you to confirm an online purchase, it could well be a scam. The idea is that you won't remember the purchase, and call your bank. However, the fraudster stays on the line, and tricks you into revealing your financial details. If this happens, hang up, don't call back, but report it to Action Fraud.
12. Check Bank Statements
Check your bank and credit card accounts regularly for irregular or unauthorised transactions. If you spot any entries you don't recognise, contact your bank without delay. Make sure your bank has your up-to-date contact details so they can alert you if they spot anything unusual.
- For more information about staying safe online and the scams to look out for go to Getsafeonline and Cyber Aware
- If you think you have been a victim of fraud: Report it to Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting Action Fraud