Last year, cyber-crime made up more than half of all fraud cases in the UK. If you use internet banking or shop online using your credit card, here’s how to keep one step ahead of the crooks.

The cost of crime

In 2016, £768 million was lost to financial fraud – that’s a 2% increase on the previous year. But while that’s a scarily large amount, more than £1 billion was saved by preventing fraud.

Experts put the 2% rise down to a growth in online attacks and deception scams, where criminals pretend to be from genuine companies asking customers to verify their details or accounts. It’s all too easy to think ‘it won’t happen to me’ but fraud is now one of the most common crimes in England and Wales.

Fraudulent activity isn’t just limited to one platform either – it can happen across internet banking, online retailers and even via other remote shopping methods, such as over the telephone and by mail order. Collectively, this is known as ‘remote purchase fraud’ and it makes up the biggest proportion of all card crime (70% in 2016). As the name suggests, remote purchase fraud happens when card details are stolen, usually by hacking, phishing or digital attacks.

E-commerce or internet shopping fraud cost victims £308.8 million last year – an increase of nearly 20% on 2015 figures. Another reason to stay alert online is ‘account takeover’ card theft, which occurs when criminals pretend to be you by gathering your personal information. More than £24 million was lost to this type of fraud in 2016 – an increase of 1%.

Top tips to help you stay safe online

The solution isn’t to pack up the laptop and disconnect your broadband. Just taking a few simple precautions should mean you outfox the criminals. Here are our top tips:

  • Use different passwords for all of your accounts – they should contain a combination of letters, numbers and symbols – and don’t leave them in a file marked ‘passwords’.
  • Encrypt your wi-fi network with a password.
  • Try not to disclose sensitive information using public or open wi-fi networks (like in coffee shops).
  • If you’re entering sensitive information, then look for web addresses that start ‘https’ – the ‘s’ indicates the site is secure.
  • Ensure your PC, laptop or tablet have the most up-to-date operating system or apps installed.
  • Install up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall.
  • Only download material from sources you know and trust.
  • Look for the padlock symbol when you buy anything online. It shows the site can be trusted and is secure.

Be alert for scams or phishing

But it’s not just online shopping or internet banking you need to take care with. Stay alert for scams and phishing (when criminals try to trick you into downloading malicious software or gather personal information about you). Consider the following:

  • Think twice about clicking on links or opening attachments from sources you don’t know.
  • If you’re in doubt, just hover your mouse over the sender’s email address. The details that appear should match the name of the sender. If they don’t, be cautious.
  • Don’t give out personal information. Banks will never ask you for your password or PIN.
  • If you’re asked to follow a link, go to the site directly rather than clicking on the link.
  • Don’t respond to emails from unknown sources.
Beware of phishing scams

Know your rights when using your credit card

Where you can, use your credit card for online purchases. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, you can make a claim for anything you buy that’s faulty, or doesn’t arrive from your credit card company. You can also ask for your money back if something goes wrong with your purchase because the company selling it has gone bust. The value of what you’ve bought must be between £100 and £30,000 – find out more in our guide to Section 75.

Trust your instinct when online

Staying safe online often comes down to using common sense and trusting your instinct. If a website or email looks suspicious, then it probably is. Look for spelling mistakes and bad grammar, and see what other people have said about the site on forums.

Never feel pressured to respond to an email that makes demands for money or for personal information. If you suspect something is wrong but aren’t 100% sure, then call the company or organisation directly using a number you’ve sourced yourself (not taken from a suspicious-looking email).

Always tell your bank or card issuer if you notice activity you can’t verify and, needless to say, tell them immediately if you think your card or banking details have been stolen. It’s also a good idea to have a backup credit card – just in case any replacements take a while to arrive. If you’d rather search for a new credit card, you could find yourself a better deal. But whatever you do, when it comes to your online activities, stay alert and stay safe.

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