‘Tis the season for online fraud: Cybercriminals are on the prowl as consumers aim to spend big this Christmas

With Covid-19 raging across the globe, one might see little jolly to celebrate this holiday season. However, despite social-distancing measures and spikes in coronavirus cases, the world is preparing for a repackaged Christmas that could soothe post-lockdown anxiety. And so are cybercriminals.

The holiday season offers cyber-crooks new opportunities to defraud people, and we can expect a proliferation of online scams leveraging the ongoing health crisis that’s pushing consumers to be more digitally active than ever.

More clicking and online shopping could stimulate fraudsters even more

Digital transactions have surged 250% since the beginning of the pandemic, accelerating online fraud by 11% from early March. Americans have lost $177.32 million to online fraud this year, while British consumers are down £16 million due to online shopping fraud.

Online shopping peaked, with recent reports revealing that 87% of global consumers will still be shopping for items on their Christmas gift list. Specifically, 65% of UK consumers have shopped more online since COVID-19, and 73% plan to stick to online shopping, with over half of shoppers expected to be on mobile devices.

With soaring Covid infection rates, in-person Christmas browsing in shopping centers is also expected to be delayed, providing fraudster with a perfect storm to exploit the hype surrounding the 2020 Holiday shopping season.

Bad actors will use this opportunity to try to dupe shoppers into disclosing their financial and personal information via spoofed websites, phishing emails, social media ads and messages.

No fishing allowed this Christmas

While high Covid infections rates are driving additional lockdowns and social-distancing measures globally, cybercriminals have been preparing for an even larger payday, exploiting every nook and cranny of the digital transformation. UK consumers reported more than 2 million suspicious emails between April and August 2020, leading to the removal of tens of thousands of malicious websites and scams.

However, don’t be fooled by this apparent success. According to researchers, users play a dangerous cat and mouse game when accessing unknown links they receive in emails. Although 78% of users claim to be aware of the risks associated with unsolicited emails, more than half can’t fight their curiosity and click the links anyway.

Cybercriminals are not just luring consumers with deals that lead to fraudulent websites. In the months preceding the “season of giving,“ charity organizations reported £3.6 million in losses due to fraud or cybercrime. So, if you plan to pull out your wallet to donate to those in need, do some research. Scammers and phony charities are also ready to collect from unsuspecting citizens, so look closely at the website and call the organization for additional information. Abort any financial transfers if you are asked to provide any personal identifiable information such as a Social Security number.

Stay-at-home-holiday or Christmas-cottage rental?

Nobody is sure what Christmas will look like this year, but alternative holiday breaks are already popping up for people in need of a change in scenery. Fraudsters follow the latest trends and, being excellent social engineers, speculate on consumer behavior to fuel their financial gain.

There are plenty of genuine holiday booking websites, so avoid being lured-in by phony holiday gift vouchers you receive via email or ads on social media. In many scams, the crooks will urge you to contact them directly and not use the website’s booking services. More often than not, they offer below-market rates for rentals and ask you to send money via wire transfer directly to their account. Once the transaction is complete, the scammers disappear, with your money.

Tips for a Grinch-free Christmas

The holiday season is the worst time of the year to fall victim to cyber-theft or fraud. Thus awareness and careful planning are vital for keeping your personal and financial information safe from cybercriminals.

  1. Beware of fake websites – cybercriminals create spoofed websites that mimic official retailers to deliver fake deals and steal your personal and financial information. It’s best to stick to your usual retailers when shopping for Christmas season deals, and always check the URL of the website you are directed to. Make sure that the link starts with ‘https’ and look for a padlock on the left of the browser.
  2. Use a credit card and activate any payment alerts – It’s crucial to avoid shopping on any websites that ask you to pay via wire transfer. By enabling alerts on your credit card, you can protect against attempts at fraud. If you suspect your banking information has been compromised, contact your financial institution immediately.
  3. Don’t click on links from unsolicited emails – phishing remains the most common tool used by cybercriminals to steal sensitive information from users. Most phishing emails are designed to appear from a trusted organization or retailer and always ooze a sense of urgency to compel recipients to click on fraudulent links or download malware to their devices. Be wary of any emails that offer too-good-to-be-true deals or prizes.
  4. Don’t fall for ‘freebies’ advertised on social media – be highly skeptical of any deals you see posted via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that ask users to provide personal details to win the latest iPhone, PS5 or shopping voucher. Scammers often create official-looking adverts to fool users into sharing information that can be used for fraud.
  5. Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks while shopping – Internet hotspots available in shopping malls and cafes are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. To make sure that your online shopping, personal, and banking information remain safe, disable any automatic Wi-Fi connections on your device.
  6. Reset passwords and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) for your online accounts – Before delving into the best Christmas deals, change the passwords for your online accounts and enable an extra layer of security to protect against fraud.
  7. Install a local security solution on your devices – Keeping your Internet-enabled devices secure will protect against malware and hackers trying to steal sensitive information.

Holidays are the best time for sharing pleasant moments with family and friends, no matter where they are. Don’t let your first digital Christmas get stolen! See how we can help you stay safe during the holiday season and beyond.