How Scammers And Cyber Criminals May Exploit The Cost-of-Living Crisis This Christmas

Sachin Bhatt 24 Nov 2022

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are once again almost upon us. But with the cost-of-living crisis taking grip over the UK, and inflation impacting much of the world’s countries in a similar manner, now is the time to be extra vigilant.

Almost half of shoppers are set to put spending limits on presents this year, says recent data – and cyber criminals and fraudsters are attuned to the fact that online shoppers will be searching to bag better bargains than ever. Unbelievable offers, however, might just be that – unbelievable – because they don’t exist, but are bait to entice online shoppers to be scammed.

According to Action Fraud, between April 2020 and March 2021, shoppers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland lost on average £674 per person to online shopping and auction fraud.  These figures might even be slightly conversative when taking into account the those who might fall outside the net on reporting. It of course does not reflect the global scale of the issue either.

With the run up to the festive period underway, here are some of the red flags you should look out for:

1. Is it too good to be true?

Many people will be on the hunt for bargains. With retailers offering a healthy discount on popular products, take a moment to evaluate if the deal you are looking at seems too good to be true. If you have found something online which is offered across multiple retailers at cost price less X% but another website is offering it for much less, ask yourself whether this deal is really legitimate. Fraudsters and scammers will often try to entice bargain hunters with extra, absurdly cheap discounted prices as bait to lure you in. No matter how much you might be pining over a product, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Did you receive an unsolicited message with a link?

Phishing emails are a prime example of how cyber criminals and scammers may trick victims into clicking on malicious links made up to look like a genuine product retailer or manufacturer. Increasingly however, messaging platforms and SMS are being utilised to the same effect. You may even receive a message with a link which looks like it is from an individual or company you might interact with.  

 It could be argued that an individual may take less care when a link is circulated with an offer on messaging apps that has cleverly been disguised to look like a genuine website. An example of this is where a letter in a web address may have been subtly replaced, for example with a Cyrillic character that looks similar: look carefully for typing variations

3. Is the seller reputable?

Check the background of the retailer you plan to make the purchase from. Do they have many reviews? Are they a known entity with an established, trusted background? Knowing who you are purchasing products from is vital. Scammers may often appear as new and unknown sellers online. In some cases, there might be a few fake reviews which make it appear as though the seller has good feedback. It is good idea to have a look at these reviews and check when they were posted and by whom. For example, be suspicious if a seller had just three 5* reviews all from the last week or so.

How to protect yourself from online scams and cyber fraud

1. Secure your accounts and systems

Where possible use multi-factor or two-factor authentication to secure yours accounts and always ensure that each of your online account has a unique, strong password.  A strong password is one that will contain 3 or more words which are unrelated and individually long. Throwing in numbers and special characters into that mix helps even further.

As a follow-up, keep your system updated. Install the latest operating system updates and security patches. Ensure software patches, like those for your web browser, are applied as soon as possible.

2. Use a credit card

Where possible and especially on purchases over £100, use a credit card. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Act, credit card purchases over this amount and to a maximum of £30,000 will be protected in case of fault, damages and misrepresentation of goods or service. There is some level of protection for debit cards under charge back, but this tends to be a lower limit of £100 maximum.

3. Stay vigilant

Your vigilance is your best friend. Trust your gut feeling if something does not look or seem right no matter how good the deal might appear. Whether it is messages being circulated on social media or messaging platforms about a 50% discount of the latest home electronics, or a seller’s website asking you to part with way more personal information than you are comfortable with. Weigh up the risks and ask yourself if this is something you would do if it was a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Take a look at our Cyber Security Advisory services.