Thames Valley Police is issuing advice to encourage people to think about security and safety while shopping online and out and about.

The reminder comes ahead of so-called ‘Black Friday’ (27/11) and ‘Cyber Monday’ (30/11), which will see thousands of shoppers taking to the internet and stores in search of a bargain.
Research by national internet security awareness organisation Get Safe Online (GSO) shows a 42% increase in financial loss to individuals and businesses, as a result of online fraud during the festive season last year (up from £9.5m in 2013 to just under £16.5m in 2014).

According to GSO, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were key dates for online fraudsters to make initial contact with victims.

Det Ch Supt Ray Howard, of Thames Valley Police’s Force Intelligence and Specialist Operations, said: “When it comes to online crime, an event like Black Friday or Cyber Monday presents an opportunity for criminals to target victims who may have their guards down. Shoppers are advised to remain vigilant and take precautions to ensure they do not fall victim to online fraud or theft, whether it’s this weekend or in the run-up to Christmas.”

When shopping online:

• Trust your instincts – if an offer looks too good to be a true, then it probably is.
• Stick to trusted websites – look for a green padlock symbol in the web address bar and ‘https’ instead of ‘http’. Fake websites are a way of gaining access to your bank details so make sure online retailers are genuine before making a purchase.
• Be wary of clicking on links in emails that could take you to a scam website.
• If are using a public WiFi connection, avoid entering your personal or payment details to make an online purchase.
• Keep electronic records of your purchases and check your bank statements for any unauthorised transactions.
• Make sure that you have installed the most recent version of your operating system (e.g. Windows) and that you have up-to-date anti-virus and firewall software installed.
• Think about using a credit card or PayPal to pay for your transactions to offer added security and only use payment methods offered by the website, rather than bank transfers.
• Use payment verifications such as ‘Verified by Visa’.

When shopping out and about

• Be aware that roads around shopping centres and car parks are likely to be busier than usual. Allocate extra time for your journey if required.
• Do not leave purchases on display in your vehicle when parked.
• Ensure that if you are carrying a bag it is closed and the zip/opening is close to your body.
• Do not leave your bag on a shopping trolley or buggy.
• Be aware of distraction techniques that offenders may use to move your attention away from your belongings.
• Shield your PIN from other customers nearby when withdrawing money or paying for items.

If you think you have been a victim of cyber-enabled economic fraud (i.e. where you have lost money) you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, by calling 0300 123 20 40 or online via the Action Fraud website (opens new window).

For general advice on how to stay safe online see the Get Safe Online website (opens new window).