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Online shopping this weekend?

I am delighted that Chris Conroy, Dorset Polices' Cyber Crime Protect and Prevention Officer, has agreed to provide a blog on avoiding the pitfalls of shopping online this Black Friday and Cyber Monday. David Sidwick - PCC

It’s that time of year again. Christmas is fast approaching and, inevitably, minds are starting to turn to Christmas shopping.

A recent survey found that as many as 49% of us plan to do our Christmas shopping exclusively on line this year. That’s a huge number of people turning to the internet to tick off those wish lists!

Of course, it’s easy to see why. It could be that people are particularly keen to avoid crowded shops nowadays. It could also be that people are keen to avoid listening to Christmas music in November. Most likely though, it will be because of the incredible savings that can be made online.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become huge events in their own right in the UK. Many of us are now flocking to the internet to cash in on the discounts on offer. However, it’s important to remember that consumers like you and I aren’t the only people looking to cash in on these days.

In 2020, online shopping and auction fraud hit its highest point in November. Whilst these online shopping events provided us with opportunities to bag a bargain, a surge in traffic to online stores also provides the perfect conditions for cyber criminals and fraudsters.

So, if you’re among the 49% who won’t be braving the high street this year, what can you do to keep yourself safe? Fear not, because that’s precisely what we’re going to look at in this latest guest blog.

We’ll start with the golden rule – Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Have you received an email offering you gift cards for reputable stores? Or perhaps a previously unknown store, offering significant discounts? These are just some of the tricks cyber criminals will pull to get hold of your personal data. Check those emails carefully, and look out for these tell-tale signs of a phish:

  • Impersonal greetings, like “Dear Customer”
  • Subject lines that suggest you’ve requested the email (e.g. “RE: Your voucher”).
  • Poor spelling or grammar
  • Poor formatting and design
  • Questionable links or email addresses (e.g. Ones that don’t seem to match the company the offer claims to be from).

That last point is one to really bear in mind. Hover your mouse over any links in an email and see if they look like you’d really expect them to. If they read like they might relate to something entirely different, be suspicious!

As for those websites offering significant discounts, ask yourself why or how they are able to undercut other companies? It may be completely above board, however it’s worth bearing in mind that they may be selling counterfeit goods. More likely than not though, it might be that you place your order and the items simply never arrive.

It can be hard to shop for presents online, particularly if you’re shopping for an item you’re unfamiliar with. Let’s say, for example, you’re buying trading cards for your child. How can you know for sure that a site is legitimate? Short of asking the child, and ruining a surprise, options are somewhat limited. This is where Google (or whatever flavour of search engine you prefer) is your friend. If you’re considering using an unfamiliar website, search or it and add the word “reviews” to your query and see what comes back. If you get a sea of positive feedback, you can be fairly sure the site is safe to use. Overwhelmingly negative feedback, or a complete lack of reviews altogether, would be a clear indication that the site is best avoided.

Ok… So, you’ve found a website you’re pretty confident about. You’ve got your items in your basket, and you’re ready to pay. For added peace of mind, consider using a credit card. If you’re spending over £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act allows you to claim against your credit provider should an item fail to arrive, or not be as described. If you haven’t got a credit card, try using PayPal. They also have a range of measures in place to help protect the buyer in the event of something not going quite to plan.

And lastly, do your best to hand over as little information as possible. Sure, the website needs to know who you are, where you live, and how you plan to pay, but it doesn’t need to keep hold of that information! If you’re able to do so, consider checking out as a guest. Websites will often try to encourage you to sign up for an account, using discount codes and special offers as a lure, but this is sometimes best avoided. If your information isn’t retained by a website, there’s less chance of your data being exposed in the event of a security breach. This won’t make your online shopping any safer, necessarily, but it can pay dividends down the line should something eventually go wrong for that online store.

And there you have it. Some of our top tips to help keep you safe whilst you’re online shopping. Keep these points in mind whilst you’re bargain hunting, and you’ll stand a better chance of staying safe whilst you’re at it. For added peace of mind, take a look at the advice and guidance available from in the NCSCs Cyber Aware campaign – This campaign features six relatively simple tips that can help to keep your online accounts safe and secure.

Oh, and one last thing - I know it’s still too early for this, being as it’s November, but have a very Merry Christmas! 
Stay safe out there.

Chris Conroy

Cyber Crime Protect and Prevention Officer

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