Black Friday: tips to avoid cyber scams and consumer pit falls

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Cyber security chiefs are warning Black Friday deal-hunters to be wary of risks while looking for bargains online.

Here GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre technical director, Ian Levy, and head of public engagement Kate Sinnott give some tips on how to shop safely on the web.

- What information should I give when signing up to use online retailers?

Dr Levy said: “It might be a legitimate thing to ask, it might not be malicious, but it’s just not worth taking the risk.

“If they are using this for your account security they won’t care what you put in. So don’t give them your mother’s maiden name. Give them the name of your first cat.

“If it’s a criminal and they try and use your first cat’s name as your mother’s maiden name they are not going to get very far.”

- Check out as a guest where possible

Dr Levy said: “Try not to make an account. Unless it’s an existing relationship you’ve got with a retailer, where you want to buy stuff from them long term, I wouldn’t bother making an account just for this weekend.

“Unless you have to give a retailer all your personal information I wouldn’t, because if they are not holding it, the next time they are breached they can’t lose your data.”

- How do I check if my data has been stored safely?

“Responsible companies should tell the customers who’ve been involved in the data breach. It’s the law now, they have to.

“If you’ve heard about a breach of a company of which you are a customer and you’ve not had an email from them you’re probably OK.”

- Still suspicious?

Dr Levy said: “You can check if your account has been compromised in a data breach at haveibeenpwned.com.

“One of things you might want to do before you go shopping on Black Friday is just check your email address on that site.

“If you haven’t changed your password since one of those data breaches and you were involved, go change it before you do stuff.”

- Make strong passwords

Ms Sinnott said: “It’s really important not to have a password that can in any way be associated with you, be it your partner’s name, your child’s name, your street address. Anything like that can be guessed by criminals.

“What we say is make it random. So we talk about three random words - that’s really hard to guess. You can enhance it with an exclamation mark or something like that.”

- Should I use the same password for everything?

Ms Sinnott said: “Your email is your most important account. It contains so much personal information about yourself.

“It’s so important that’s got to be super-protected. Have a separate password for your email account, so if one of your other accounts gets compromised criminals can’t access your email.”

- What if I think I’ve fallen victim?

Ms Sinnott said: “Don’t panic, don’t worry. Unfortunately loads of people are falling victim to fraud, so it’s not you.

“But, if there’s something that’s making you feel uncomfortable or a little bit suspicious about the transaction that you’re making as you’re shopping - it might be that they are asking you for an excessive amount of information, or you notice the company’s based in a bit of the world you know it’s not - don’t panic, just take some action quickly.

“Take a note of what the website is, immediately close down your internet browser and then report those details to Action Fraud. Finally, once you’ve done that, just contact your bank.

“It might be nothing, you might be fine, it depends often how much information you’ve put in. It’s just really important to report it and contact your bank so they can be on the look-out for any suspicious transactions.”

- How can I stay safe with my new purchases?

Dr Levy said: “Try and buy a reputable brand and where the device you buy has got a decent guarantee length so you know everything is going to be kept up to date and maintained.

“When you get it home I know you want to plug your shiny thing in, but it’s worth reading the instructions - make sure you know what this thing is going to do and if, during the set-up it asks you for a password, choose a decent one that you haven’t got somewhere else.

“If you’ve got to set up an account, go into the settings and look at the privacy settings - make sure they are what you want them to be, not what the default is. And please keep the software up to date, that’s really, really important.”

More than two fifths of Britons are planning to spend in the Black Friday sales today amid warnings not to “get carried away by the hype”.

Some 42% of Britons are looking forward to the event, and 22% are specifically looking to buy Christmas presents - while 25% are intending to shop on Cyber Monday, a survey by KPMG suggests.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “Retail performance throughout the year has been dreary to say the least, and we’ve certainly had a shaky start to the all-important ‘golden quarter’.

“Retailers will naturally be keen to make the most of these events, and our survey would certainly suggest that consumers are gearing up for it.”

However, consumer group Which? said its over-arching message to shoppers this year was to not feel pressured into spending after finding that nine in 10 Black Friday deals last year were the same price or even cheaper at other times of the year.

It has urged consumers to be careful not to buy on impulse and instead research products and prices before spending in the sale.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “While retailers are bombarding us with promises of great discounts and time-limited sales, it’s clear that not all deals are as good as they might appear.

“To bag a bargain, do your research and don’t get carried away by the hype when shopping in the upcoming sales.”

Early indications suggest that Black Friday spending will dip for the first time this year since its arrival in the UK.

Consumers will spend £2.4 billion on deals in stores and online, down from last year’s £2.6 billion, according to the predictions from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) and VoucherCodes.co.uk.

Analyst Springboard has also said footfall and spending activity over this year’s Black Friday period is likely to be affected by economic pressures such as high debt levels and significant living costs, compounded by the event taking place a week earlier this year - before many consumers are paid for the month.

According to KPMG’s study, the promotional period is favoured by younger consumers, with 75% of shoppers aged 18 to 24 saying they will be taking advantage of deals compared to 36% of 45 to 54 year olds, and just 24% of over 55s.

Mr Martin added: “Many shoppers are likely to recall how the slashed pricing in store resulted in stampedes, which is just not what mature consumers seek out.

“Since Black Friday was adopted by Britons back in 2013, retailers have increasingly moved offers online, and that coincidentally is where a higher proportion of younger consumers can be found.”

Citizens Advice has warned buyers to beware of online marketplaces ahead of Black Friday as thousands report being ripped off.

More than 13,000 problems with purchases on online marketplaces were reported to the charity’s consumer service last year, it said.

Recent polling suggests three quarters (76%) of UK adults now use online marketplaces, which are websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products.

However Citizens Advice warned consumers planning to spend in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to be aware of the dangers.

Analysis of calls to its service found that those reporting issues with online marketplaces last year lost an average of £215.

Half of those who had a problem (50%) had further issues trying to resolve it, while calls about problems with purchases on online marketplaces have increased by 35% over the past four years.

In one case, a woman bought two “Gucci children’s coats” from an online marketplace, only to spot reviews saying the coats were fake after she had paid.

The mother-of-two said: “The coats arrived and I was absolutely devastated. They looked absolutely awful. They looked so cheap, smelt like wet dogs and looked nothing like the picture.”

She has laid a formal complaint with the payment company about getting her money back.

But Citizens Advice said more than half of customers did not know they had fewer rights when they buy from a private seller compared with a business.

It recommends that consumers check all the product information carefully before buying on an online marketplace and take extra care such as reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. This National Consumer Week, we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase - and their rights if something goes wrong.

“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buyers need to beware when purchasing items through online marketplaces.

“Before clicking the buy button, it is really important people check the product information available otherwise they risk being left out-of-pocket.”

Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “The UK’s consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world, but there is always more to do to ensure shoppers know their rights.

“We are clear that online marketplaces must ensure consumers are aware of the rights they have. With 76% of us now using these marketplaces this campaign from Citizens Advice will play a valuable role in helping ensure consumers can shop with confidence and know what their rights are should things go wrong.”