It’s that time of the year again, and as we all slowly gear up towards Christmas, thoughts inevitably turn to shopping for presents.

Unfortunately, scammers are fully aware of this, which is why online fraud can increase during the festive period.

What tricks do scammers pull at Christmas?

Online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, consequently, far more believable.

In the run up to Christmas, scammers will look for ways to trick us into parting with our hard earned money by targeting key spending periods.

For instance, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are incredibly popular sale days which result in people keeping a constant eye on the latest bargains. Scammers use this to their advantage by sending out special deals that are anything but.

Such scams will look convincingly real, thus tempting people to follow links to websites which ask for credit card details and other forms of personal data.

Online scams at Christmas aren’t really any different from those found throughout the year, but they’re likely to increase in number and become harder to distinguish from the genuine offers. You’re also likely to receive more emails from retailers in the run up to Christmas, and your attention may be elsewhere.

How to avoid being scammed online while Christmas shopping

To avoid having your Christmas shopping ruined by an online scam, follow these simple tips to say cyber safe.

1. Follow your gut instinct

If you think an email looks dodgy, it probably is.

Emails that arrive from suspicious looking addresses, or which feature poor grammar and questionable logos shouldn’t be trusted.

Just as you wouldn’t hand your banking login details to a stranger, avoid interacting with emails that you’re not expecting.

2. Check the website

When you receive an email advertising a special festive offer, check out the website before clicking on any links within the email.

By visiting the website directly, you can check a few things:

  • Does it exist at all?
  • If it does exist, does it look trustworthy? Do you recognise the brand and is there a padlock symbol in your browser window to indicate a secure site?
  • Is the website you end up on spelt differently from the email?
  • Do the logos and branding on the website match what you see in the email?

It’s also important to remember that a lot of spam emails (often referred to as ‘phishing’) will sometimes take on the role of a big brand. If you check the website of the big brand and the offer in question isn’t there, you have a right to be suspicious.

Regardless of the above checks, we’d revert you to tip 1; the fact you’re suspicious of the email should be enough to consign it to your spam folder.

3. Lean on the fundamentals of cyber security

Scammers prey on people who have a lackadaisical approach to cyber security, so make sure you’re undertaking the usual housekeeping items on your devices:

  • install and keep your anti-virus software up-to-date;
  • keep your operating system and apps up-to-date (turn on auto updating if available);
  • always use separate, strong passwords for every website and service you rely on (a password manager will help here); and
  • bookmark this blog to keep on top of the latest cyber security advice!

4. Look out for smishing texts, too

Smishing is just like phishing, but it takes place via text message rather than email.

This form of cybercrime is also likely to be more prevalent during the festive period, so it pays to be extra vigilant with any unexpected text messages you receive.

The good news? You can follow the same tips for email scams to remain safe from smishing harm.

5. Be wary of missed delivery emails

Some scammers will send out emails that look like they’re from delivery companies.

Always think before you click. If you receive a message saying you’ve missed a parcel, take some time to think about whether or not you’re expecting anything and, if you are, revert to the courier’s website to check the status of the delivery to verify the text is legitimate.

Email scams of this kind will use urgency to try and get you to click quickly on unsolicited links. Nothing is ever that urgent, so be sure to take your time. And if it asks you to call a number be very cautious and make enquiries online first.

6. Watch out for account expiry emails

If you receive an email that suggests your credit card, Amazon account, or PayPal account (to name but a few examples) is about to expire, avoid clicking on any links.

Instead, head to the website in question and log in as you normally would or call or email the provider directly.

This is a common phishing technique which tempts people to click on email links to dodgy websites in order to capture their login information.

Final thoughts

If the hectic nature of the festive period results in you inadvertently clicking on a dodgy link within a phishing email, we recommend changing your passwords quickly and speaking to your credit card provider for their advice.

The chances of you being compromised over Christmas is still relatively low, but if nothing else, the rise in cybercrime during this period is a great excuse to get out there and make the most of the high street instead. Why not support your local town and enjoy a festive warm drink while you’re there?

Just remember the golden rule: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

If you need any cyber security advice, please contact our friendly, knowledgeable team.