Since the widespread adoption of online shopping and the electronic transactions used to pay for it, online identity fraud has been a potentially profitable endeavour for criminals. These days fraud is rarely a confidence trick which happens in person, the majority of it occurs by stealing your identity and going online to spend your cash. It doesn't take much to have your identity stolen, but if you're not careful you could have thousands of pounds stolen.
An example of just how widespread identity fraud can be was highlighted earlier in the year by the Association of Chief Police Officers, they say unsuspecting consumers handed over a total of £3.7m to online ticket fraudsters in 2013 alone. This is only one area of identity fraud, but it shows just how much this despicable practice has risen in popularity in the UK and around the world.
It's not only losing your money to a fraudster that's infuriating, it's the time spent on the phone and in your bank trying to reclaim your money too. You also run the risk of damaging your credit rating when your accounts are compromised, imagine that you're desperate for a loan or mortgage in the future and you're denied because you fell for an online identity fraud scam a few years previously.
However, you don't have to be an expert in online security or computing to know the basic rules of how to protect yourself online. If you follow these simple rules you should be able to shop online with peace of mind...
1) Use trusted website only - This is probably the most important one on the list - Don't give your account details out to websites you don't trust! Make sure you're buying from established shops and businesses with online reviews and a visible customer base. You could even try typing the companies name into Google to make sure lots of negative reviews don't pop up in the results.
2) Check for the padlock - Make sure there is a padlock image in the top left of your browser address bar, this indicates the site you're viewing has the relevant security certificates and is safe to shop with.
3) Passwords - It's important to be sensible with passwords and follow the two golden rules. Firstly, don't leave them lying around or share them with others. Secondly, use different passwords for different sites - this is important because if one site is compromised your details can't be used in multiple places.
4) Social Networks - It is important to be careful with your social network profiles, by keeping your privacy settings high and not revealing too much personal information. If you're name and personal information is widely available on networks like Facebook, fraudsters can use it to get through security questions and answers on your accounts.
Online credit fraud is rapidly becoming the most common type of fraud committed in the UK. However, if you're careful online it's not difficult to avoid falling for a scammers tricks. It is worth staying vigilant by checking your bank accounts regularly in case you spot any irregularities. Log into your online banking weekly and you can also check your credit rating at Experian and similar sites. By staying alert to the potential issues around online shopping and making some small changes to your habits, you can potentially save yourself lots of money, hassle and keep your credit rating intact.