Staying safe online this Christmas

Written by Anna Adamovics, SproutIT

Cyber security is a vital part of our everyday lives nowadays. When you work in a law firm or chambers, you use every possible precaution when conducting business online. But it is just important that you stay vigilant at home too.

Particularly in the run up to Christmas, cybercriminals are busy finding new and creative ways to try con people out of their money and steal personal information. But this year, Sprout IT are sharing with our clients our own tips and tricks on how to dodge online scammers and to help you stay safe when shopping online.

If you keep yourself informed and take the right safety measures, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to shop online safely.

Scams to look out for

Sometimes, an online scam can be so sophisticated that only an IT expert would be able to spot it. Other times, however, the signs of a scam can be blatantly obvious.

Pressure tactics – An important thing to look for is when an online retailer uses pressure tactics. This is to make the customer believe the offers won’t last if they delay, so they commit to the purchase before they’ve had a chance to really think about it.

A trusted online vendor may say a deal is available ‘for a limited time only’, but if you’re told a particular offer is “now or never”, it should definitely raise some red flags.

Reputable companies offering genuine offers will give you enough time to make an informed purchase. Vendors that urge you to buy as quickly as possible prey on the fact that you’ll jump at the chance to grab yourself a bargain when, in actuality, the quality will most likely be a lot lower than anticipated or you’ll spend more than you had planned to.

Keep an eye open for goods advertised as free. As you know, sellers will never give something for nothing in return, and often the most convincing pitches can have an ulterior motive. Even free introductory offers usually end up incurring monthly subscription charges.

This time of year, scammers will be looking for every opportunity to trip up people hurriedly doing their Christmas shopping. It doesn’t matter how accustomed you are to dealing with these scams as they’re constantly changing and evolving. As people pick up on certain scams, hackers make their pitches more and more believable to try and catch you out.


Learning to notice the signs of a bogus website is also a great way to safely shop online. A popular scam known as ‘spoofing’ involves a hacker creating a website that looks just like a legitimate online vendor. They’ll take the trusted brand’s name, logo and website design, then choose a URL as close as possible to the genuine web address.

This scam preys on customers that may type in the web address wrongly or as a link in a spam email in the hope that one or two people will unwittingly try to buy something on the site. Once you’ve typed in your card details, they’ll store them and sell them on.

This trick gives customers a false sense of security that they are shopping with a trusted brand when they are just giving their sensitive information to cybercriminals. This Christmas, make sure you double-check the URL on any website before purchasing anything or putting in any important data.

Protecting your payments

Spoofing isn’t the only potential threat when you enter your card details in an online checkout. You have to make sure the website and payment you’re using are secure.

Check the website URL

When buying online, check the beginning of the URL in your search bar. This should always begin with ‘https://’ and not just “http://’.

The reason this is so important is because that little ‘s’ stands for secure; meaning all the data transmitted between you and the server is encrypted. If any cybercriminals happened to hack the store’s server, they wouldn’t be able to read or use your information.

When the ‘s’ for secure is present, you should also see a small green closed padlock symbol at the start of your URL. If you click on the padlock, you should also be shown the site’s SSL encryption digital certificate, as well as its trust level.

This is the best way of ensuring the data you put in at the checkout, from your card details to your home address, are protected.

Make sure you don’t use the same password on every website too. Many of us are guilty of this but when a scammer has both your email address and a password, they could use it to access any one of your online accounts, potentially including PayPal.

Use your credit card

Whilst this isn’t a necessity, many people recommend you always use a credit card rather than a debit card when you buy online.

This is because Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act says that, if something were to go wrong in an online purchase, your credit card company would be “jointly and severally” liable as well as the retailer.

Say you bought a product online that cost anywhere between £100 and £30,000 using your credit card. If the item was faulty upon delivery or just never showed up, and you were unable to get your money back from the vendor, you’d have the right to claim the money back from your card issuer.

However, if you purchased the item with your credit card through PayPal or a similar payment system, the same rules would not apply. That’s because the credit card company’s agreement would be with PayPal and not the retailer.

If your credit card offers an internet guarantee, even better. As Michelle Slade of MoneyFacts says, internet guarantees are “a valuable extra for internet shoppers. It means you are covered against the cost of fraudulent transactions online, although the exact terms and conditions vary between issuers.”

Stay safe online

When you’re shopping online this festive season, it’s important to keep your eyes open for any possible scams. In a thriving and diverse online marketplace, keeping your money and data safe is vital.

For further tips, download our essential Christmas Shopping Tips to help you stay safe online during the festive period. 

Have a safe Christmas and cyber safe New Year! 

This article was originally published here and was reposted with permission.

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