12 top tips to keep the 12 days of Christmas safe

In the season of goodwill, people are not always as vigilant as they could be. Christmas is a time of merriment and cheer but also a time when we are more vulnerable to scams and theft.

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for cybercriminals, who exploit the fact that people are distracted, make quick decisions when it comes to present buying and take advantage of additional online activity. It is reported that more than £16 million is lost through online fraud during this period alone with financial fraud as a whole now reaching over £700 million annually.

There are lots of things to watch out for in your email inbox around the Christmas period – as well as fraudulent sales and fake receipts, there is also e-card fraud.

When shopping online, it is important to be more careful about the information you provide and share online. Personal details can be used by cybercriminals to build trust with you, which they can then exploit by getting you to reveal further details that may enable them to scam you.

And it doesn’t stop there. Fraudsters are continually looking at new ways to target individuals through social media, new device purchases that provide limited security and much more.

Here are a few tips to help you through the season:

1- Keep your anti-virus software up to date
Scammers may try to trick you into downloading malware onto your computer, giving them the opportunity to steal your personal and financial data. So it is important to keep your anti-virus software up to date on all of your devices, including smartphones and tablets.

2- Use strong passwords for online accounts
If you are setting up a new online account for shopping, make sure you secure it with a strong password. Use three random words and only provide limited information when creating accounts (complete mandatory fields only). If you can, use guest checkout facilities.

3- Enable two factor authentication
Two factor authentication is a way for the service provider to check it is you logging in by using a real-world source such as sending a security code to your mobile phone. This helps protect you because it is unlikely that a cybercriminal who has managed to obtain your password will have this ‘second factor’.

4- Update passwords for new devices
Most new devices and wearables that connect to the internet arrive with a default admin password that is the same on every device sold. Devices can range from CCTV cameras to appliances, phones and tablets. This can leave your device and network vulnerable to attack as these default passwords are widely known. Change all device admin passwords as soon as you have purchased them to improve security.

5- Review security on new or pre-owned devices
Before you start using new or pre-owned internet-connected devices, make sure they are protected with a security app or software. Always remember to install updates to operating systems, apps and software as soon as prompted. Download apps only from official sources such as the App Store, Google Play or Microsoft Store, and perform regular backups to safeguard your valuable documents, photos and other files.

6- Dispose of old devices securely
If you are letting go of old devices, make sure you remove all data from them before selling or disposing of them. It is not sufficient to simply delete the files as this does not generally remove them from the hard drive. Reset all phones to factory settings too.

7- Give extra caution to emails
Always double check emails – clicking on email attachments or links in unexpected emails could infect your device with malware and/or compromise your personal or financial security. In the run-up to Christmas, many people have dozens of packages arriving and often lose track of what they have ordered. Scammers know this and send out emails that purport to come from legitimate courier companies. Always check the sender’s address to ensure it is a legitimate company and go to the company’s own website to track orders.

8- Double check website authenticity
Be careful where you shop as criminals can set up very good ‘lookalike’ sites. Looking for a padlock in the browser can help but is not a guarantee.  If you are suspicious or something seems too good to be true then ‘take five’ and think carefully before proceeding. Access sites from trusted links rather than social media ads or other sources where a web link has been provided to you in an email. Always make sure shopping websites are authentic by carefully checking the address is spelled correctly.

9- Avoid bank transfers
Where possible, avoid paying for goods or services by bank transfer if you do not know or trust the person or company.

10- Donate sensibly online
Fraudsters often target goodwill as they know that many people feel charitable at this time of year. They may send emails from a bogus charity or ones that purport to come from a legitimate charity but contain a link to a scam site. Make sure you go through the charity website or a well-known charity-giving site.

11- Be careful on social media
Review your privacy settings, especially if you are intending to be away on a seasonal break, as these could highlight that your property is empty and invite a potential burglary. Scammers also use social media to tempt people with irresistibly good deals on goods such as electronics and jewellery. There are often fake free voucher offers from well-known brands, whereby claiming a voucher will take you to a fake site. The social networks are a place where links to phishing sites and malware can be widely shared.

12- Avoid public Wi-Fi for confidential matters
If you are travelling, shopping or out entertaining, do not use public Wi-Fi hotspots if you are doing anything confidential online. It is better to use your own mobile network or create your own personal hotspot to connect your laptop to the internet while away from home or the office. If you do need to login to public Wi-Fi then use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) where possible as they keep your browsing secure even on unsecure networks.


Further information and support

Get Safe Online is the UK’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety. Its website is a unique resource providing practical advice on how to protect yourself, your computers and mobiles device, and your business against fraud, identity theft, viruses and many other problems encountered online.

For further information, please visit: https://www.getsafeonline.org/onlinechristmas/