Which? is urging consumers to avoid fraudulent websites, as well as fake and counterfeit products, ahead of frenzied Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales shopping.
Individuals and businesses reported losing almost £16.5m through online shopping and auction fraud last Christmas, according to figures released by Action Fraud this week.
This represents a 42% increase in total financial losses compared with the 2013 festive period.
Last year, £810m was spent online in the UK – or a jaw-dropping £9,375 each second.
And it’s estimated that almost four times as many UK consumers are intending to shop online this Black Friday compared with in 2014.
The huge increase in online activity on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday gives fraudsters a huge opportunity to take advantage of those caught up in the online shopping frenzy.
Stay one step ahead of the scammers by reading our guides to the latest scams and fraud.
Selling fake and counterfeit goods
The National Trading Standards (NTS) eCrime Team has also warned of a huge increase in the variety of fake and counterfeit goods being sold by unscrupulous sellers on social media.
And according to the latest Intellectual Property Crime Report, social media has overtaken auction sites as the criminal ‘channel of choice’ for counterfeit and piracy activity.
The most common item being sold by fraudsters last year was mobile phones.
Many people reported the crime to Action Fraud after what they thought was a bargain never arrived, leaving them without presents to give on Christmas day.
Others reported being defrauded while trying to buy footwear, clothing, watches, games consoles, computers, furniture and home electricals.
Don’t buy from fake websites
One way professional scammers take advantage of consumers is by creating fake websites. These use replicated brand logos and offer the latest ‘must-have’ tech such as smartphones and video game consoles.
A growing concern is the sale of ‘big ticket’ items such as electrical goods and clocked cars that are not only expensive, but could potentially put lives at risk.
Mike Andrews from the NTS eCrime Team said: ‘We would always urge shoppers to use reputable dealers or retailers for all purchases, particularly when substandard products could cause harm.’
Top tips to avoid scam websites
Follow our five top tips to avoid being tricked into buying from a fraudulent website:
1. Read the homepage Take a couple of minutes to double-check the site. Maybe visit the homepage and read the text there. Keep an eye out for poor grammar or spelling.
2. An offer too good to be true When you see very low prices with ridiculous discounts, you should become a bit suspicious. Scam websites use low prices to quickly sell the fake or non-existent items.
3. Never pay by bank transfer If you pay for something that turns out to be fake or non-existent with a credit or debit card, you do have some rights to get your money back. But if you pay by bank transfer there’s very little you can do to get your cash back.
4. https vs http Although it’s not always a guarantee, you can check for ‘https’ at the beginning of the website address. On pages where you’re entering personal information, ‘https’ acts as an encryption to protect your personal details.
5. Check online reviews Look at reviews across a number of sources, such as Trustpilot, Feefo or sitejabber, which aggregate customer reviews. Don’t look at just one review website – check several to avoid being influenced by potentially fake reviews.