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UK-based victims of online shopping scams lost an average of £1,000 per person during the 2021 holiday season, according to National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) statistics released today to coincide with a new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) anti-fraud campaign run under the auspices of its Cyber Aware programme.
All told, UK shoppers lost more than £15m to cyber criminals from November 2021 to January 2022, with victims being duped out of their cash while trying to shop online. There were nearly 20,000 reports in all, of which 20% related to the purchase of electronics, 13% to mobile phones, and 8% to vehicles.
Notably, over half of the scams reported to Action Fraud during the period related to one social media platform in particular – although the NCSC did not name it.
One victim, who lost £7,000 while trying to buy a second-hand campervan, said: “I identified a campervan that I wanted to purchase on an auction site and so I made contact with the seller through the platform, asking whether I could inspect the vehicle. The seller replied that they were on holiday, so this was not possible. However, they would arrange for the vehicle to be delivered to me.
“I was advised that in order for the seller to arrange delivery of the vehicle, I would need to send a copy of my passport, as per the request of the delivery company. I proceeded by providing a copy of my passport, as requested.
“Following this, I received an invoice supposedly from PayPal providing the bank account details of where to send the £7,000. The email also stated that I would then have seven days to inspect the vehicle; the funds would be held by an intermediary until I was satisfied with the vehicle. If I was not satisfied with the vehicle, it would be collected and I would receive an immediate refund.
“I carried out all appropriate checks on the vehicle and I was happy to proceed and the seller confirmed a delivery date. The vehicle did not arrive and all contact has ceased.”
NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron said: “Online shoppers will understandably be looking for bargains during the Black Friday and Christmas shopping period and we want them to do so safely.
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“Sadly, we know that criminals will look to exploit consumers at this time of year, which is why good cyber security has such an important role to play. I would urge everyone to help us fight the scammers by following our Cyber Aware advice to set up two-step verification and use three random words passwords.”
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, added: “The festive season is an expensive time for many of us. It’s natural for shoppers to get caught up in the excitement of Black Friday deals, and rush into making a quick purchase online to bag a bargain.
“Unfortunately, Christmas will come early for criminals, who see this as an ideal opportunity to take advantage of us with the tempting promise of bogus cheap deals.
“I urge shoppers to be cautious of where and who they’re buying from. Our figures show that most scams last year involved mobile phones and electronics, so always shop with official retailers and don’t be enticed by deals that seem too good to be true. Where possible, use a credit card when shopping online as this will offer you more protection if anything goes wrong.
“Follow our practical advice to enjoy shopping online safely and ensure you are not targeted this Christmas, especially given the cost-of-living crisis we’re facing.”
The Cyber Aware campaign will set out three key steps that consumers can and should be taking to prevent themselves becoming victims of online fraud:
- Activate multifactor authentication (MFA) if offered, and use passwords composed of three random words to stop cyber criminals from accessing online accounts.
- Research online retailers before buying, especially ones that are new to you, and seek feedback from trusted sources, such as consumer websites.
- If possible, use a credit card, rather than a debit card, when shopping online, as credit card providers tend to offer more protections and, if you are unlucky enough to have your details stolen, the money in your bank account will be safe. You may also like to consider using a payment platform such as PayPal, Google Wallet or Apple Pay. However you do choose to pay, always check for a closed padlock icon in your web browser’s address bar.