This might be the season for giving, but don’t give scammers an early Christmas present. Check out our top tips to avoid Christmas cyber scams
By Virgin TV Edit
Christmas is a time when it’s so easy to get distracted – presents to buy, family and friends to feed and, often, it involves more travelling than the big fella with the beard. But when there’s so much going on, it’s easy to let your normal common sense lapse. Scammers know that all too well, meaning the holiday season is a prime opportunity for them.
We’ve teamed up with cybersecurity experts F-Secure (the company behind our Virgin Media Internet Security) to explore common shopping scams and provide you with valuable tips on how to avoid them.
Our aim is that you’ll feel more at ease finding genuine discounts and deals, meaning the worst mistake that might befall you this yuletide will be accidentally eating all the chocolates in the tin when you claimed you were “just having a couple”. Let’s dive in…
How to spot scam websites
Have you ever been on a website that just feels a bit off? Something about it that doesn’t feel right? One of the most prevalent scams during the Christmas season are fake websites. Scammers create sites that mimic well-known retailers, offering enticing deals and discounts to make you want to click. These scam websites can be very convincing. But interacting with them gives criminals either your personal details, your money or both.
While losing money is bad for obvious reasons, criminals stealing your personal details is no laughing matter either. If they get vital information, such as your name, login credentials or credit card number, they can use them for identity theft or sell these details to other criminals on the dark web.
How to avoid scam websites:
- Stick to online shopping sites you know and access them only through their official websites.
- Check the website URL (web address) for any mistakes.
- If it’s an online store you don’t know or haven’t previously used, check their contact information and returns policy, as legitimate shops don’t hide them.
- Search for reviews on trusted review sites. Watch out for exclusively positive reviews from profiles that sound fake, such as Amy113 and Tim231.
How to spot too good to be true deals
We’re all hunting for the biggest bargains this Christmas, especially with the cost of living. But our search for great offers can lead to taking bigger and bigger risks. While many Christmas shopping deals are genuine, some are just too good to be true. Scammers may advertise products at unrealistically low prices to lure shoppers.
But let’s face it, no one is going to sell a new iPhone for £100. Once a payment is made, the scammer disappears. Alternatively, you’ll get something totally different than what was promised. Another trick is to offer a discount for a very limited time. For example, saying a sale ends in just 10 minutes. This trick is used to make you buy fast and carelessly, so you don’t have time to validate the seller’s authenticity.
How to avoid too-good-to-be-true deals:
- Be sceptical of deals that seem too good to be true, and very short-lasting deals.
- Shop with well-known, reputable retailers.
- If you do see a deal with a retailer you’ve never shopped with previously, do you know someone who has previously shopped there who could recommend them?
- Like with fake websites, check trusted review sites and check social media for any complaints.
- Use price-comparison websites to ensure the deal is consistent with the market price.
How to spot delivery scams
When time is short, online retailers are convenient. But while you might gain time in skipping the high street, you’ll often lose it again waiting for the deliveries to come. That can cause anxiety, especially if you need to head out on other errands, and scammers will seize on that apprehension. That’s why they’ll try their luck sending fake delivery notifications as a text message to your phone – even managing to mimic the company’s name in the sender line.
These scam messages seemingly come from the likes of FedEx, DHL, Evri or other well-known delivery companies claiming they have a package waiting for you. To arrange a delivery, they will ask you to install their app or click the link in the message. However, these apps or links are malware that may steal your bank credentials and eventually your money.
How to avoid delivery scams:
- Verify the tracking number independently through the official carrier’s website.
- If you need to arrange a delivery, do it from the carrier’s web page or on the phone.
- Do not install applications outside of official app stores and have antivirus installed.
- Never click on a link. Again, anything that needs to be verified can be done independently through official channels.
- Be cautious when providing personal information in response to unsolicited delivery notifications.
How to spot email scams
Your inbox will be filled with emails this time of year from lots of high street or online retailers featuring great Christmas offers and deals. But amongst them will also be scam emails. Scam emails combine many of the tricks mentioned above and are one of the most common ways that scammers will use to try and steal your money and personal information.
They are disguised as coming from well-known brands and direct you to scam websites with enticing offers or delivery notifications. Another typical trick is to tell you that your payment or credit card was declined, and to change it, you just must enter your credit card number again. Scam emails can also lure you to download malicious attachments.
How to avoid email scams:
- Always double-check the email sender’s address. Legitimate retailers use domain names that match their brand.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails and don’t click on suspicious links. Instead, visit the retailer’s official website directly.
- If an email says that your payment or card was declined, go to the service in question through their website, not the link in the email.
- Don’t open suspicious attachments. If your antivirus warns you, do not skip the warning.
How to spot fake apps
As our vigilance increases, scammers are continuously finding evermore creative ways to trick us to part with our money or personal information. That now includes creating fake shopping apps designed to mimic popular retailers. These apps may ask for excessive permissions and steal personal data or engage in fraudulent transactions.
Official app stores on the other hand try to keep fake and malicious apps out. Fake apps are typically promoted with scam emails and text messages.
How to avoid fake apps:
- Download shopping apps only from official app stores (like Google Play and Apple App Store).
- Read app reviews and check the app’s permissions before installing it.
How to spot social media scams
We spend a lot of time on socials, and these platforms can be a great way at finding deals, discovering new products (#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt) or entering giveaways or competitions. But, you’ve guessed it, because these are popular online pastimes, scammers will try and lure you in on social media platforms, often through fake contests.
You’ll have seen these posts or received direct messages like these in the past. These posts promise free products or gift cards in exchange for personal information or sharing the post.
How to avoid social media scams:
- Verify the legitimacy of the social media account or page before participating in any giveaway or contest.
- Be cautious when asked to provide personal information in exchange for freebies.
By following the steps in this guide, you are already one step ahead. Combine your newly acquired knowledge with complete protection on all your devices like you get from Virgin Media Internet Security, and you are well prepared against current and upcoming threats. Because let’s face it; anyone can fall victim to online criminals. These digital adversaries are remarkably adaptable and consistently refine their methods.
It’s important to recognise that scammers are active all the year-round. While they may amplify their efforts during Christmas, they don’t take a holiday for the rest of the year. Whether it’s Christmas or any other time of the year, remember to remain informed, stay safe, and safeguard your financial well-being. Happy shopping, and may your online journeys always remain free from scams.
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