Stay safe from cyber-crime in this year's Christmas sales

Tom Bailey
Christmas is a boom time for cybercriminals - with spam emails, fake sites and fake products used to lure bargain hunters into divulging credit card details, or downloading viruses onto new PCs. (Image: Fotolia)

The sales season is a boom time for cybercriminals - with spam emails, fake sites and fake products used to lure bargain hunters into divulging credit card details, or downloading sofware onto new PCs.

This year, Britons are liable to face a bombardment of cyber attacks - due to the huge increase in online shopping.

During the first week of December, announced it had taken a record £42million in online sales – with a massive £7.3million spent online on ‘Mega Monday’ alone.

[Related: 10 ways to save on your mobile contract]

But those of us who don’t know how to shop safely on a computer, tablet or smartphone could pay a high price for attempting to cut costs.

A survey by MySiteChecker – revealed that of the 74% of who are planning to shop online this festive season, 45% are not confident they could quickly and easily determine if a website is safe.

With criminals finding increasingly sophisticated ways to attack us online, record number of online shoppers could be in for a nasty surprise: a cyber crime wave of epic proportions. On that note, here’s how to shop online safely...

[Related: Watch 'Cybergeddon here]

Check for fake feedback
If buying from a lesser-known specialist retailer, check for recent honest and impartial shopper feedback. Sites such as Epinions, ReviewCentre and BizRate will carry feedback – but the key is to cross-reference. (Some unscrupulous online shops will post fake feedback from 'happy' customers). In addition, look for third party seals of approval such as the green TRUSTe badge.

Established for over 15 years, TRUSTe ensures its members (including Apple and Disney) go the extra mile to preserve your privacy.

Don’t be tempted by festive spam emails
During the festive period, you’ll notice an increase in spam emails containing questionable festive offers. Rolex watches, Apple products for a tenth of the real price; cyber criminals research and target shopping trends just like any other high street retailer. One of their biggest earners? The ‘Replication Specialists’ scam – an email from a company purporting to offer high-quality ‘legal’ replica watches and handbags. It’s simply a ruse to extract your credit card details. Any company that specifically points out that its goods are ‘legal’ probably ain't legal.

Choose the right payment method
As long as you're sensible and vigilant online you can often spot fake or insecure websites. But for extra peace of mind, it’s important to choose the right payment method. If you pay for goods costing between £100 and £30,000 with a credit card, your card company is jointly liable with the company that you’re buying from. In addition, it’s worth setting up a PayPal account, which is an online e-wallet that allows you to pay for goods without revealing your financial details to vendors.

                                                   [Related: Watch 'Cybergeddon here]

Check for encryption
When inputting your credit card or bank details make sure the page is encrypted - a secure measure that scrambles data as it travels over the net. Look for an ‘s’ after ‘http’ in the URL bar and a tiny closed padlock - either in the address bar or the lower right corner of the browser window. Double-click the padlock icon to reveal a digital certificate: it should confirm that the website is what it claims to be.

Keep your browser updated and install anti-virus software
Most browsers – including Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s InternetExplorer 9 – contain filters than block sites suspected of phishing orcredit card fraud. To ensure your browser can continue to check themost up-to-the-hour databases of known fraudulent sites, make sure you check for software updates. You should also have your firewallswitched on and install reputable anti-virus software such as Norton Internet Security, which blocks hackers, removes spyware and filters spam.

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