How to stay safe online this Christmas

Make sure your money goes on presents, not to crooks

Some £13.8 billion will be spent online by UK shoppers in the run-up to Christmas this year. This is almost double the amount spent last year, £7.7 billion, according to figures from Forrester Research.

In fact, it seems Christmas shopping online is already well under way. Online retail activity has increased by 23 per cent in the UK since the start of November, according to data from web monitoring firm comScore.

Safer shopping online

With some 27 million online shoppers taking to the web instead of pushing through crowded shopping centres, there are plenty of opportunities for cyber criminals who want in on some of that shopping budget.

Many online shoppers admit to not updating the anti-virus software shipped with their computer. Some don't even have a full suite of anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall applications installed. Often the measures you should take before you set off on an online shopping spree are simple.

Top tips for Christmas

Here are our top tips on how to stay safe online this Christmas, in conjunction with Brian Grayek, vice president of threat research for Computer Associates.

  • Never follow links sent in an email. An email message may look like it's from a real retailer, but it could be a phisher trying to steal your personal and financial information. If you're interested in buying an item, type in the seller's web address and get to its website that way.
  • Don't fall for emails claiming to be from your bank, saying you need to log into your account (again, via a link) and reset your password. If you're worried about your account, type in the bank's web address to get there or just call the bank on the phone.
  • Use PayPal or another verified payment system for your online purchases. If you can't use PayPal, use only one credit card and make sure the issuing bank has a protection policy in case of fraud.
  • Check your credit card statement online at least once a week to make sure you've only been charged for items you actually bought.
  • Call your credit card company immediately if you notice a problem with your credit card statement. Even small fraudulent amounts should be reported - often, a thief will make a small transaction to see if it goes through, before they hit you with a big one.
  • Keep your computer safe. Buy an established brand of internet security software that includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, anti-spam and firewall components. Popular products include , the suite, or the free online anti-virus and anti-spyware software suite, .