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How to avoid online scams this Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Online scams are a plague of the internet, but you can still be a savvy shopper this Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas

For all its twinkly joy and togetherness, Christmas can be a real strain on your personal finances. With the cost of living crisis in full swing, most Britons will be looking to scale back their spending this year or find some bargains in the Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales. And that ring-ding-a-ling of sleigh bells is the chime of a cash register to an increasing number of online scammers.

“Sadly, many scammers are taking advantage of the cost of living crisis to prey on consumers,” said Lisa Webb, a Which? consumer rights expert. “At times of financial difficulty, those peddling fraudulent investments and dubious discounts have a greater chance of succeeding.”

A report from online scam investigator Action Fraud showed that UK shoppers are losing more money on average each year to scammers, with the average loss raised from £549 per person in 2020 to around £1,000 this year. 

In light of these worrying statistics, we spoke to Webb about some surefire ways you can identify scams and protect yourself from those Cyber Monday deals that really are too good to be true.

Avoiding online scams: Do your research

“Scams can often be hard to spot, with fraudsters increasingly using sophisticated tactics to part us from our hard-earned cash,” Webb said. “People should always be wary of unexpected emails or messages asking for personal information, and if you’re uncertain, don’t respond and instead contact the company directly.”

Thorough research is now, unfortunately, a necessary part of online shopping. This is especially true when it comes to those elusive discounts or second-hand deals that could tempt you away from safe, accredited shopping sites. 

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The best defence against a potential scammer is knowhow – keep a look out for the signs below, and always listen to your gut instinct if something doesn’t feel right.

How does the page or listing look?

“Some tell-tales signs of a scam can include spelling and grammar mistakes, or people pressuring you into making a decision such as transferring money or making a purchase,” Webb commented. “Scammers can also create fake websites, so if you see a tempting offer online be sure to check reviews and do your research to make sure it’s a genuine firm, as deals that look too good to be true often turn out to be just that.”

When looking at a firm’s reviews, always look for consistencies in negative feedback (eg, has more than one person complained about the same thing?). And always check the authenticity of good reviews. Is there a sudden influx of 5-star reviews, all written in a suspiciously similar way? Fake reviews can be a reliable sign that your vendor has something to hide – this goes for listings on accredited sites like Amazon and eBay, too.

Keep an eye on the administrative side of the website as well. Does it have a convincingly written section for FAQs, security and privacy? Can you easily access the vendor’s contact information? Which?’s ‘How to Spot a Scam’ guide notes that scammers often use PO boxes or premium rate ’09’ numbers to obscure your chances of tracking them down if you have an issue.

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Has this vendor ever been reported for scamming before?

Thankfully for the savvy modern shopper, there are a wealth of places you can go to consult on an unfamiliar vendor. As well as official centres like Action Fraud and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) who keep databases and publish regular reports, consumer protection sites like Which? can send direct updates to your inbox to keep you informed.

“To stay one step ahead of the scammers, consumers can sign up to Which?’s free Scam Alert service,” Webb said. “It sends regular updates on some of the most common scams doing the rounds and how to spot them.“

Failing these resources, you can always check social media and relevant chat forums for victims’ testimony: always search for mentions of your vendor on Google and social media, and look for consistencies in people’s complaints. 

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What to do if you think you’ve fallen for an online scam

“If you think you’ve paid money to a scammer, you should report this to your bank and Action Fraud.” Webb said. “Depending on how the payment was made, it might be possible to reclaim some or all of your money.”

“For example, people who have paid for goods over the value of £100 have added protections under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which enables you to claim money back via your credit card provider,” she said. “Similarly, those who pay by debit card may be able to use chargeback.”   

According to Which?, how you pay does affect the likelihood of whether you’ll get your money back after being scammed. 

“Unfortunately, you can’t always get your money back if you’ve been scammed, especially if you’ve handed over cash or you’ve paid via a wire service such as MoneyGram, PayPoint or Western Union,” the guide says.

“Credit cards have the greatest protection, as you can make that claim against your card provider. Under Section 75, the credit card company is jointly liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company,” it continues. “Different banks might have different policies on reimbursing victims of fraud, but all banks have a responsibility to protect your money. “

It’s important to remember that if the worst happens and you do fall for a scam, the best chance you have of protecting yourself and other potential victims is reporting the scam. The Office for National Statistics reported last year that the number of online scams that get reported are only a fraction of the number that actually occur, attributing the discrepancy to a victim-blaming culture that exists around these offences. 

As well as reporting the scam to your bank and Action Fraud, you should always contact organisations like Mind and Victim Support for non-judgmental emotional support.

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