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Buying online? Make sure it’s not a ho-ho-hoax...

Tis the season for fraud and deceit. Not very festive, it’s true, but unfortunately this is one of the key times of year when people are caught out by scams and fake websites, as they rush to make last-minute purchases. Read on for our guide to keeping festive fraud at bay.


This is when scammers pose as reputable companies in order to steal personal information such as passwords or credit card numbers. This is the number-one concern for online retailers. The related ‘spear fishing’ is where people receive tailored emails that look as though they are from family or favoured retailers.

If you receive an email or other communication supposedly from a company, note first if the grammar/spelling is correct. Many originate from countries where English is not the first language and are often easy to spot. Look out for spammy, SHOUTY wording and exhortations to act quickly/before a deadline. Is it addressed to you personally or just ‘valued customer?’ Check the actual email address too, not just the ‘sender’. Anything from a company that uses a public email domain (gmail, hotmail) is not going to be from a legitimate source. The best way to check an organisation’s domain name is to type the company’s name into a search engine.

Data theft

Generally, if you buy through trusted websites your data should be safe, especially if you get to that website after searching for it or typing in the address directly. Beware of clicking through from ads you have seen in social media or on a search engine’s webpage. Get in the habit of checking the address of the website that you are on. Scammers devote a lot of time and effort to replicating websites of name brand online retailers and eCommerce websites. If you get caught on a fake website you may end up with your personal information being stolen (credit card, password etc) and used fraudulently.


Security has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years to keep shoppers safe from malware (intrusive software designed to damage your computer or steal data) but the fraudsters are always looking for new methods to trick unsuspecting shoppers. Last year saw the first arrests for ‘e-skimming’ - a type of malware that infects checkout pages to steal payment and personal information. Both large and small companies have been the target of attacks including TicketMaster (in 2018), Puma and Macy’s. The good news is that retailers who are compromised face reputational risk, so they put a vast amount of effort into making sure their security is top notch.

Fake online reviews

Five-star ratings can do wonders for online retailers, so be wary of write-ups that lack detail, or are too positive - or where there are lots of reviews in a row that say the same sort of thing. Try to check the source, and trust your gut feeling: if it doesn’t seem right, the chances are the product is substandard or it may even be a scam.

Counterfeit goods

Huge steps have been taken by online retailers to keep counterfeit products from their sites, but some still get through, particularly on the big marketplace portals. Wherever possible, use reputable retailers.

Sarah Smith

Foundation Speaker


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