Could you be an online shopping victim?

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Santa at computerPA

The Christmas shopping panic is now hitting the internet. We have swapped the frantic dash around the shops on Christmas Eve for a remarkably similar one online a couple of weeks earlier. And while it may make us feel slightly more smug as we are saving money and planning ahead, we could also be opening ourselves up to serious risks.

E-fraud is on the march, and at Christmas we're more likely than ever to be a victim.

According to the IMRG, £7.75 billion will be spent by shoppers in the run up to Christmas. That's a 14% increase from last year, and Kelkoo says this means we are managing a quarter of the Christmas shop online. On the one hand this is a great sign that we are mastering the art of thinking ahead and saving a small fortune this Christmas.

Fraud risk

However, we also run the risk of stumbling into online fraud. Shoppers may well turn to small retailers - possibly run through auction sites - that they have never heard of before. They may be offering presents that are hard to get hold of, or they may be offering attractive prices.

However, they may also be dodgy - and established entirely for the purpose of ripping you off. Research from 192.com has found that 17% of people have been subject to online fraud, and with more of us shopping more online that figure is going to keep rising

So what can you do?

The key is to run a few checks on the business before you buy. Dominic Blackburn, Product Director of 192.com says: "If you're buying from members of the public or from small businesses, we urge you check out their validity as businesses or their identity as individuals – and the best way of doing that is by confirming their address. If their address cannot be found there is reason to question their authenticity."

He says that if you're buying from an individual, you should try to verify a seller's name and address: 192.com's free directory enquiries and millions of records on the Edited Electoral Roll will verify their contact details - something fraudsters are keen to hide.

If you're buying from a business, you can use the 192.com business finder to access company credit reports, and third party web references. Check out a UK company credit report on 192.com and you can see if there have been county-court judgements against that business – which is useful to know if you're about to hand over money. If you're worried you can also access Company and Director reports to know more about the people behind the brand.

You don't need to use this database. You can Google the name of the company, and check with Trading Standards and Consumer Direct. You can also check for a listed address and phone number on the website itself and call the number to check it is authentic.

It may seem like a lot of hard work when all you want is a cheap bottle of aftershave, but standard checks should take no more than five minutes, and will still be a heck of a lot less hassle than trailing the high streets.

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