Avoid falling foul of online shopping fraud this festive period

As we begin to enter the busiest time of the year for online shoppers with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales fast approaching at the end of this week, Wiltshire Police want to remind our communities of some of the issues of shopping online and what can be done to limit the risks.

28,000 people reported falling victim to online shopping fraud with losses coming in at a total of £15.4m during the festive period in 2020. We are supporting Action Fraud’s campaign to raise awareness of the potential pitfalls of online shopping and offer support with practical steps people can take to help shop online securely.

Thankfully we’re not in the same predicament of last year where most of our high street stores were closed during the second national lockdown, but many people are likely to still be wary of busy shopping centres and look increasingly to the internet to meet their gift shopping needs, so it is important to remember the basic steps we can all take to reduce the risks.

Criminals know this is a time people are looking for a deal and might be more tempted to click on a suspicious link or share personal information when you might be feeling the festive pressure. We would urge you not to be rushed into making purchases or sharing information. Stop and think to consider if something might not be legitimate – if something seems too good to be true, it often is! Reported problems consumers have with online shopping range from scams and defective goods to not knowing their consumer rights and struggling to get refunds.

Be aware when buying from the likes of eBay and Facebook marketplace. When using PayPal don’t agree to tick that box of paying trusted friends unless it really is someone you know. You may feel you are helping the seller out by them not having to pay fees, but remember you are not covered if that item does not appear.

The significant increase of people turning to internet shopping, particularly during the last couple of years, has also sadly provided the perfect conditions for fraudsters to take advantage of vulnerable people, conning them out of large sums of money. Courier fraud, romance fraud, fake phishing emails and scam phone calls have all been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. Alongside banks and other forces, we’ll continue to remind our communities of common scams and tips on how to protect themselves, their friends and families.

Wiltshire Police Fraud Manager, Alison Wiles said “There are some really simple steps everyone can take to shop safely, like: making sure your shopping and online financial platforms are secure with strong passwords (which you must NEVER share); checking the website you’re on is legitimate; be on the lookout for potential phishing emails or text messages with direct links (please don’t click on those links, instead go through the retailer’s own website), and be extra wary of sites you haven’t used before. Do some research first; internet searches may provide helpful information about current scams.

“Older or less technically minded people living alone are most at risk, we’d like to ask those in our communities who are more savvy when it comes to online shopping or fraud, to look out for your less knowledgeable friends, family or neighbours. It could make a huge difference.”

Detective Sergeant, Sean Tregunna added: “Many people will be turning to the internet to grab themselves a bargain, there will be retailers trying to bid for your attention, and sales at every turn. Criminals are incredibly aware of this and use it to their advantage so it’s important to take your time, and don’t let yourself be rushed. Lesser known, but common mistakes are using public WiFi to make purchases which could be more easily intercepted, or convincing looking offers on social media, which don’t even exist!

“It’s an exciting time of course, to be planning for the festivities ahead, but it’s important to remember the basics, don’t get caught out by scammers aiming to benefit from the extra time we’re spending online.”

Having regular conversations with less internet aware, often older people, could easily help prevent someone you know becoming a victim of these fraudsters. Prevention is always our preferred strategy – let’s curtail these scams and do all we can to shop online safely this festive season.

If you’ve been a victim of fraud, please report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or via their website at www.actionfraud.police.uk.