Online fraud set to soar this Christmas

INTERNET experts are predicting a surge in online fraud over the festive season as record numbers of shoppers are expected to turn to the internet in search of Christmas bargains.

IMRG, the internet retail monitoring group, estimates that UK shoppers will spend £5 billion on 24 million online purchases over the Christmas period. The sheer volume of online spending has prompted criminal gangs to venture on to the internet in search of rich pickings from shoppers who fail to take the necessary security precautions with their card purchases.

Online card fraud has also been boosted by the success of chip and PIN in curtailing criminals’ ability to commit fraud at the point of sale, unless a victim’s PIN has been unwittingly disclosed.

The Association for Payment Clearing Services said this month that online banking fraud rose by 260 per cent to £14.5 million in the first half of this year. Banks blame phishing attacks — using fraudulent e-mails to trick consumers into revealing bank account details — for this exponential growth.

Phishing gangs are becoming more creative in the ruses they use to trick people into revealing personal information and they will prey on the naivety of those shopping online for the first time this Christmas.

Nilay Patel, director of engineering at MailFrontier, the internet security company, says: “Fraudsters are taking advantage of online shopping websites to steal personal information. We have found e-mails that purport to be receipts for online purchases. Potential victims are told to click on the link and enter their card details if they want to cancel the supposed transaction, which of course they did not make.”

Mr Patel also gives warning of the risks of e-mail Christmas cards. “These could look pretty on your screen, but behind the flickering Christmas lights could be spyware installing itself on your PC, which can filter all your internet password and card details to fraudsters,” he says.

In some cases, victims open the attachment in an e-mail greeting card that has been sent by a friend, failing to realise that the message was forwarded to that friend from a criminal and is impregnated with spyware.

Online fraud now accounts for more than half the overall losses to card-not-present fraud, which rose to £90.6 million in the first half of this year, up 29 per cent on the previous year., a credit information service, says that identity fraudsters will step up their attempts to make fraudulent credit card applications in the final weeks of December.

Barry Stamp, joint managing director of, says: “Credit card companies raise their credit scoring systems over this period to put an additional defence in place. Applications made by people with Yahoo! and Hotmail e-mail addresses are viewed with particular scrutiny because these addresses are almost untraceable (if false information was given when the account was opened) and are often used by fraudsters.”

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