Government Experts in Last Minute Seasonal Scam Warning

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has made one final plea to consumers ahead of the busiest shopping weekend before Christmas to be alert to fraud and data theft attempts.

The GCHQ agency urged shoppers to protect their devices, be aware of unsolicited messages and minimize the amount of information they input into e-commerce sites.

According to banking body UK Finance, nearly £22bn was spent online on Christmas shopping last year due to COVID-19: over a third (34%) of all card spending in December. With the Omicron variant surging, 2021 will likely witness a repeat show, exposing more consumers to online scams.

These can take many forms, including phishing emails containing fake shipping notifications and warnings about compromised accounts or fake gift cards requiring the recipient to share personal information to ‘redeem’ them.

Consumers may also be approached online via emails and social media messages with “too good to be true” offers for discounted popular gift items, including electronics. If they fall for these, the victims not only lose the money spent on the non-existent item, but their bank or card details will also end up in the hands of the threat actors.

The NCSC said the last-minute rush to buy presents online before the Christmas delivery deadline peaks this Saturday, making many shoppers more vulnerable to such scams.

“The good news is that there are common signs of a scam that people can look for, for example offers that seem too good to be true or claim that particular items are in short supply,” said NCSC director for policy and communications, Nicola Hudson.

“To protect themselves, there are practical steps people can take, from setting a strong password on accounts to researching a brand before buying – much more can be found on this on the NCSC’s website.”

The NCSC urged consumers to use strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication for all accounts, especially email, banking and payment services.

It advised shoppers to ignore unsolicited messages, especially ones with links to websites, and to pay via credit card as purchases should be protected this way. The agency also recommended that shoppers check out as a “guest” to avoid spending too many personal details with e-commerce firms.

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