To avoid our blood pressure rocketing on the busy highstreet, more and more of us will be heading to the internet to purchase gifts over the next few weeks – in fact we're set to spend 14% more online this Christmas, according to figures from the UK Card Association.
Yet with the stress-free convenience of online shopping comes a heightened risk of fraud, and young women are at the most risk. So how can shoppers keep safe online?
More than 35 million of us have shopped online in the past year – up 52% on the 23 million who shopped online just six years ago. And figures from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) forecast that UK shoppers are set to spend £7.75 billion online between 28 November and 31 December, an increase of 14% from the £6.8 billion spent online last Christmas.
Announcing the launch of its Be Card Smart Online campaign, the the UK Cards Association says the focus this year is raising awareness among younger female shoppers, as research shows they are at greater risk of online fraud. A study by the National Fraud Authority (NFA) revealed that only 8% of women aged 26-35 protect their computers with up-to-date anti-virus software.
So what simple steps can you take to protect your details and hard-earned cash from the prying hands of fraudsters?
1. Keep your PC protected Install up-to-date anti-virus software. Ensure your browser is set at its highest level of security notification and monitoring - the safety options are not always activated by default. Turn on 'automatic updates' when asked, which allows you to decide when and how updates are installed.
2. Look for the padlock symbol This is crucial, especially if you're buying from a website for the first time. It's a good indication that the online retailer is reputable.
3. Register your cards Sign up for Verified by Visa, MasterCard SecureCode or American Express SafeKey when prompted. It is quick and easy and adds an extra layer of protection to make shopping online even safer.
4. Keep records Sign out of each retailers' sites before closing the window and always save the confirmation e-mail as a record of your order. Keep details of the retailer's terms and conditions, including returns policy, delivery conditions, postal address (not a post office box) and phone number (not a mobile number). Having this information will help if you subsequently encounter difficulties with your order.
5. Beware links Always access sites you want to visit by typing the address directly into the browser. Avoid links in emails or adverts of other sites – they may be scams that take you to a fake replica site. Also, trust your instincts and remember if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.
6. Section 75 protection Buying on a credit card gives you an extra layer of protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Card. On purchases between £100 and £30,000, the Section makes the credit card provider jointly liable with the retailer if a problem arises with the product or service you have bought, or the retailer goes out of business.
7. Check statements Check your statements regularly, particularly when your account is getting a lot of use, to look out for any suspicious transactions. Contact your bank or credit card provider straight away if anything is wrong – you will be reimbursed providing you have not been negligent with your personal details, such as sharing your PIN for example.