Consumers failing to protect themselves from online fraud this sales season

Published

Hunt for a bargain putting shoppers at risk of falling victim to online scams, warns National Trading Standards.

New research has uncovered only 5% of consumers think undertaking vital cyber safety checks is the most important factor when shopping online in the Boxing Day and January sales, putting themselves at risk of falling victim to a scam.

This shocking statistic, from research commissioned by National Trading Standards* has raised concerns that shoppers will put finding a bargain before anything when shopping online. A quarter (26%) of those surveyed said finding the cheapest offer was most important when sales shopping online, even more than getting the items they specifically wanted (17%).

Consumers who shop online regularly often miss basic safety checks such as looking for reviews of the seller (24%), the returns policy (22%) and checking for the padlock symbol in the task bar (28%). Missing out these simple checks could explain why almost 1 in 5 (19%) respondents know someone who has fallen victim to a scam when shopping online.

The temptation to rush into finding the cheapest deal or best bargain amongst the madness of the Boxing Day and January sales could put many consumers at risk of receiving poor quality, substandard and overpriced goods, or maybe nothing at all.

National Trading Standards is urging consumers to take extra care when shopping online this sales season and has issued a ‘Sale Safety’ checklist to help people avoid the criminals who may be luring in customers with the too-good-to-be true prices on popular items.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards said:

“We all like a bargain and the Boxing Day and January sales can offer some great discounts. However, I urge consumers to take extra care when shopping online at this time of year. One dodgy purchase could mean that money you think is being saved, ends up being money lost when items bought don’t meet initial expectations – or materialise at all.

“National Trading Standards is working hard to tackle online crime and bring to justice those who operate frauds that target consumers – but we need the public to help us. We urge people to report any suspicious websites or dubious sellers to the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06”.

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive, Chartered Trading Standards Institute said:

“Easy access to online shopping has changed the way we buy goods. This presents us with new challenges in keeping consumers safe. At times shoppers don’t look beyond the bargain and it’s a concern that they don’t check who they’re buying from and the safety of the products. CTSI urges everyone to follow the NTS advice and stay safe when shopping online.”

Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst said:

“Our consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world and ensuring markets work fairly and effectively is central to our modern Industrial Strategy.

“I would urge consumers to be vigilant when shopping online and follow this advice to help stay safe when shopping for bargains this festive season.”

Alice Tomkins, Community Engagement Officer for Suffolk Trading Standards, said:

“Scammers will use this time of year to their advantage, so use caution when shopping online. We always recommend that you make purchases from reputable retailers and be especially vigilant when buying from online marketplaces such as Facebook. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

National Trading Standards sale safety checklist

Look closely at the website before you hit the ‘buy’ button:

  • Try searching for reviews of the product or the seller – do these seem genuine?
  • Are there lots of spelling or grammar mistakes on the site? This can be a clue that a business is not professionally run.
  • See if you can find out where the company’s head office is based – and whether that fits with how the website presents itself.
  • Do they have a landline number you can call if there are any problems? Bear in mind that if the company is based abroad, it can be more difficult to get a complaint dealt with or return a faulty product.
  • Read the small print – notice if anything seems odd, repetitive or in incorrect English.
  • Is there an ‘s’ at the end of the ‘http’ part of the web address, or is there a padlock symbol in the task bar? This means the website is using an encrypted system that keeps your details more secure.
  • Be wary of promotions and discount offers that appear on your social media feeds – these can look authentic as they often try to imitate genuine brands, but in many cases the link will take you to a ‘copycat’ website selling fake or counterfeit products at discount prices.

Don’t be dazzled by a bargain: Are the prices incredibly low? If they look too good to be true, they probably are – particularly if some of your other checks have put doubts in your mind.

Be aware that criminals exploit high demand: When items like branded children’s toys start to sell out at well-known retailers, the void is quickly filled by crooks churning out poor quality imitations that can put children in danger. Don’t ‘panic buy’ from the first website you find – do your usual common-sense checks.

Report it: National Trading Standards needs your help to clamp down on unsafe products from abroad. If you believe that any online or face-to-face seller is selling potentially dangerous goods, or something you’ve bought has made you suspicious, report it to Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.