Callcredit warns online shoppers to keep their personal details wrapped up this Christmas

  • Nearly 70% of online Christmas shoppers never check websites for contact details, meaning bogus sites could be having a bumper Christmas
  • 15% plan to go into debt to fund their Christmas gift shopping
  • 13% will gamble on an unfamiliar website if it means getting a real bargain

As the busiest time of the year for internet shopping gets into full swing, festive shoppers are warned to be on their guard against online fraud and bogus retail websites.

New research released today by the credit and fraud experts at Callcredit Information Group reveals that although 76 per cent of web users will be buying Christmas gifts via the internet this year, a large number of them are running the risk of their personal details falling into the hands of unscrupulous fraudsters, who then run up debts in their name. 

The online research, carried out by YouGov, shows nearly half (43 per cent) of those planning to shop online this Christmas do not check that the website they're buying from is secure and that their payment information is encrypted - putting them at risk of their personal and financial details being stolen during a transaction.

A huge 66 per cent of those planning to shop online this Christmas do not even check that the site has a contact address or phone number, leaving them with little comeback if their order does not arrive. Even more worryingly, four per cent of shoppers don't take any measures at all to keep their details safe.

People in Wales are the most careful with their details, with 61 per cent checking for encryption features, and 37 per cent looking for contact details - the highest out of all the regions - while shoppers in London tend to be more relaxed, with only 43 per cent checking the site's security features. 'Silver surfers' - those aged 55 and over - are the most aware of the precautions they need to take, with 57 per cent looking for encryption features - compared to just 42 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds.

Not only are many shoppers not taking sufficient care to keep their financial details safe, but the survey also reveals that 15 per cent of shoppers plan to get into debt to fund their Christmas shopping, with 11 per cent to mainly fund their shopping using credit cards and 4 per cent to mainly fund their shopping using their overdraft.  Some consumers are tightening their belts, however, with 40 per cent planning to spend less than last year - potentially making it all the more tempting for shoppers to use unfamiliar websites in the search for a cut-price gift.

Owen Roberts from Callcredit said: "The internet is a great place for a Christmas bargain - particularly as shoppers feel the spending squeeze - but it's more important than ever to stay safe from fraudsters.

"It is easy to get caught up in the Christmas shopping frenzy and let your guard down as you search for the perfect gift. But with identity fraud and online scams becoming more and more sophisticated it is vital that we all spend a few extra seconds to protect ourselves when we are online.

"Once a thief has your personal information, they can wreak havoc with your finances. This could result in your credit cards being maxed out or your bank accounts being drained by fraudsters, making buying Christmas presents almost impossible - and over the festive season, this might take longer than normal to resolve. For those people who fall victim to fraud during the festive season, Christmas will be well and truly off the menu."

To give shoppers a helping hand, Owen has compiled his top tips for keeping safe on the internet:

  • Check that the site you're buying from is secure and that it uses encryption

"It takes a matter of seconds to tell whether a website is secure," says Owen. "If the address bar says 'https' instead of 'http', and if there is a locked padlock symbol in the bottom corner of the screen, that means your payment details will be encrypted."

  • If you've not used the site before, look for a contact address and phone number

"Even if the site looks secure, there is still no guarantee who is on the 'other side' of the screen," says Owen.  "Ensuring that there is a valid address and phone number to contact in the event of a problem, such as your order not arriving, can give you greater confidence."

  • Keep your anti-virus and firewall software up to date

"Although on its own this won't fully protect you from online fraudsters, anti-virus software is a vital first line of defence," says Owen. "Our survey shows that 55 per cent of people ensure their software is up to date - make sure you're one of them, as threats and viruses change all the time."

  • Avoid accessing sites through unsolicited emails

"Scammers sometimes set up fake websites designed to look like the real thing, then encourage unsuspecting shoppers to visit through 'phishing' emails," says Owen. "Always check the address of the site you're visiting before you make any purchases."

  • If in doubt, don't use the site

Thirteen per cent of shoppers would make a purchase from an unfamiliar website if they thought they were getting a significant bargain. But they could be gambling more than they realise. "Shoppers who take a punt on an unknown website may think that all they stand to lose is the cost of the item they're buying," says Owen. "But once a person's details have been compromised, there is no telling what they can be used for. If the offer looks too good to be true, steer clear."

  • Check your credit report for suspicious activity

Your credit report provides a vital record of all your financial commitments, and can often be the first place suspicious activity is flagged up. "If your report shows any accounts or addresses that aren't yours, contact the credit report provider, who will provide help and support to get this put right," says Owen.