Every year the sales seem to star earlier and earlier, competing with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Panic Saturday or whatever new terms being invented for what we used to just call the Christmas rush. But some of the January sales still do start in January and the period between Christmas and the return to work is one of the heaviest shopping periods. The shift online is certainly for real. This year marked twenty years since the first online purchase but now 95% of us shop on line and we’re expected to spend £100 Billion on the internet this year – a lot of it around this time. Last year there were estimated to be 117 million visits to web retailers from British consumers on Christmas Day – that’s almost twice the number of people in the country. Whilst the most we may have to fear from a visit to the high street are a few frayed tempers in the white goods department, the online threat is rising. In the first ten months of the year Cifas, the industry fraud prevention service say that over 80% of identity frauds they recorded this year were committed online.
Before coming into politics I worked in the IT industry, helping design and build out the internet. Now as shadow minister for Digital Government and Cyber Security I’m worried this Government isn’t doing enough to keep people safe online. I recently commissioned an independent report as part of our Digital Government Review, which highlighted the importance of digital skills to ensure people are comfortable online. Organisations like Cyber StreetWise and Cifas  publish help and guidance for secure shopping online, here are my ten top tips.
- Check it’s a secure website by making sure the web address uses ‘https://’ – the s after http stands for secure.
- If don’t know the retailer, type their name into a search engine to check if there are any online warnings about them. Even if it’s a name you know, you can copy paste the website address into the search engine to see if there are any particular problems with that site.
- Using a credit card gives you some protection as you can often claim your money back in the case of fraud but be careful not to handover your details and in particular your security code unless you feel absolutely confident that you’re dealing with a legitimate trader
- If ever in doubt, or if something just doesn’t feel right, don’t enter any details and leave the online store immediately.
- Use different email addresses and passwords for your various online accounts.
- Do not enter financial details from a public wi-fi hotspot, if you do not have broadband at home then try to access from a more secure location such as the computer in a library. Always logout completely when using a computer someone else has access to.
- Never respond to unsolicited emails or texts and be very careful of any links you receive from people or organisations you do not know.
- Avoid giving your financial details over the phone in public places and if someone rings you make them prove they are who they say they are – wait at least five minutes for the line to clear before ringing any number they give you as confirmation.
- And as Cyber streetwise say, if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Finally if you are unlucky enough to experience a fraud, report it at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud . Everyone says crime figures are going down – which is great news, but this Government does not make sure that online crime is reported so we don’t get a proper idea of how much crime there is out there.We are a nation of online shoppers – we shop more online than any other country in the world. By following a few top tips we can help make sure that continues and the people and businesses benefit from digital shopping that safe for all.