For most of us, Christmas shopping has changed massively in the past decade or so. In the past, we’d spend hours (or even days) visiting stores and malls, trying to track down the ideal gifts. But now, the internet reigns supreme, and almost anything we need is just a click away. Online Christmas shopping is normally a very good thing, saving time and helping us buy exactly what our loved ones desire.

But online shopping can also be a dangerous activity. When we make so many online purchases in such a short period of time, it’s easy to let our guard down. And when we do, we leave ourselves open to all sorts of risks.

We don’t want anyone to fall victim to online crime this Christmas. So we’ve put together a quick guide to staying safe online. That way, you can focus on enjoying the holiday season, without worrying about your credit card details.

Learn how to spot fake websites

The first risk for Christmas shoppers to know about regards fake websites. These days, it’s extremely easy for phishers to cook up websites which superficially resemble ordinary retailers.

These sites will have product listings and payment portals – just like the real thing. But when you submit your details to these sites, you won’t receive any goods. Instead, you’ll find your account emptied of cash, and scammers using your personal information to run up huge credit card bills.

So, how can you spot fake websites while you shop? Firstly, avoid using direct links that you find in unsolicited emails. And check emails for little details that don’t look right. A letter out of place in a store’s website is enough evidence to give the site a miss.

Fake sites almost always lack the kind of certification (such as VeriSign) that normal retailers use, and they won’t offer contact details for customers to get in touch. Prices will often be suspiciously low, and the site’s text might be littered with grammatical errors.

As a rule, if you get the feeling a site isn’t right, shop elsewhere. Or contact the site’s owners. If they are legitimate, they will do all they can to ease your concerns. Scammers generally won’t even bother to reply.

Sharpen up your fake product spotting skills

spot fake websites

Websites aren’t the only fakes around this Christmas. Sadly, online retailers also host plenty of fake products which are tough to differentiate from the real thing.

The internet has made it easy to source counterfeit items from low wage manufacturing zones. On the surface, these handbags, sporting goods, electronics, and designer clothes look realistic and convincing. But when you receive them, the difference in quality is obvious – leading to disappointment on Christmas Day.

There are a few rules to remember when checking for fakes. Firstly, fake products tend to be cheaper than the genuine article. If something is “too good to be true”, unfortunately it usually is.

Secondly, genuine items come with authentically branded packaging and documentation, as well as serial numbers in most cases. You can head to brand homepages to search for many of these codes, or give the brand a call to check whether a number matches up to their records.

Finally, be wary of unknown retailers. Remember what we said about fake websites. Well, the same applies to fake products. If someone pops up on your social media feed with freebies or bombards your email account with incredible deals, and you haven’t come across them before, be very skeptical.

Exercise caution when buying tickets

Caution when buying tickets

Experiences like theater shows, cinema visits, fine dining, and musical performances are becoming more popular as Christmas gifts. That’s great, but there are some risks associated with buying tickets online – especially regarding fake concert tickets.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways to separate scam tickets from the real version. Firstly, try to get a close look at the print quality of your tickets. If they are really from major distributors like Ticketmaster, the quality will be extremely high and there won’t be any spelling errors.

Again, try to resist deals that are suspiciously cheap. As with any online purchase, scammers will try to lure you with unbeatable offers, so keep your head while you shop.

Finally, check the little details on the ticket you’re looking at. The dates should be accurate, any websites included should be accessible and legitimate, and the font should be consistent.

It’s not always easy to be 100% sure about fake concert tickets, or tickets to sports events or amusement parks, for that matter. But if you shop carefully, you can avoid the embarrassment of being turned away when you or the recipient comes to use them.

Be savvy about using public WiFi this Christmas

The way you shop for Christmas gifts is as important as spotting fakes. And using unsecured public WiFi is a mistake that catches out hundreds of thousands of shoppers every year.

Why is this a mistake? Well, let’s say you’re using an Android phone to browse fashion websites as you seek the ideal gift for your wife. If the network you’re logged onto is unsecured, it’s relatively easy for thieves to start a public WiFi hack against your device.

Also known as man-in-the-middle attacks, this kind of public WiFi hack allows thieves to intercept any data you send across the network. They may also be able to hijack your phone, giving them access to social media accounts and payment details.

We don’t want either of those things to happen. But shopping on your smartphone is undeniably convenient. Fortunately, VPNs offer an alternative. Virtual Private Networks can encrypt the data you send via your phone and anonymize your identity, making you a far less tempting target for hackers.

Be really careful about using social media

Social media christmas

The rise of social media has led to a wide range of festive dangers. We’ve touch on a few already, such as scammers sending Facebook messages with deals that are impossibly cheap. But there are plenty of ways to fall victim to social media scammers.

Some of these scams are simply devious. For example, it’s not rare for criminals to pose as charities working for the homeless or terminally ill children. By sending fake social media messages, they can harvest huge amounts from people who are (or were) full of festive cheer.

Then there are courier scams. Sometimes, criminals send fake emails to customers telling them to click on a delivery link. Instead of bringing up information from couriers, this actually leads to fake websites or injects malware onto the target’s computer. So be careful about opening any emails.

The list goes on. For example, scammers might send fake e-vouchers to social media accounts, promising generous Christmas bonuses. Or they might tempt you to visit “wish list” sites where you enter the gifts you’d like to receive. In all of these cases, the aim isn’t to make Christmas merry, but to steal money and personal information.

Exercise caution and shop smart to avoid Christmas shopping scams

As we’ve seen, Christmas shopping can be a risky activity – especially if you aren’t aware of the risks. Hopefully we’ve introduced a few ideas about staying safe online, from spotting fake products or websites, to installing a VPN to avoid a public wifi hack.

If you shop smart, you’ll almost certainly stay safe. So use your brain, and take care. That way, you’ll ensure that the Winter Wonderland won’t turn into a financial nightmare.