The scammers targeting Black Friday shoppers

Forecasters are predicting that the UK will experience a boom in sales as a result of Black Friday but a leading payment security group has warned of the dangers facing shoppers following a spate of small-scale fraud scams.

Black Friday – the high street shopping event that’s been around since November 2011 – is likely to last longer and hit sales figures more significantly this year than ever before. Forecasters at Visa predict shoppers will spend £5.3bn in December, up by 23% from £4.1bn last year.

With UK high streets and shopping centres, even street-level outlets, lining up promotions and events to cash in on the sales, cybersecurity experts believe shoppers are at risk from numerous fraudulent scams during this period.

AcornPay, a payments software company specialising in fraud prevention, found in a new survey that one in five consumers (22%) have fallen victim to online fraud during their online shopping trip. More than half of consumers (57%) have fallen victim to a click-through or text message-based scam, costing them £6.3m, according to AcornPay’s latest report.

Small changes, large consequences

The scams, which are often small variations of one another, are designed to trick the consumer into clicking on links or revealing their banking details or social security number. While hackers are often able to steal consumers’ identities using sophisticated techniques, the small changes to scams over the last few years have made them far less likely to trigger an alert from a password-protected app.

UK consumers who have lost more than £10,000 to online fraud face a combination of seven causes of bankruptcy. This includes losing their online bank account, victimising themselves through an untrusted payment provider, losing all of their online accounts in one go, being fired from a company due to fraud or one of two other causes.

Jim Smith, chief operating officer at AcornPay, said: “We expect more small-scale scams in this year’s Black Friday period. Every year around this time there are some complex, smaller and more refined scams. This has increased the number of people who have fallen victim to these scams over the last few years.”

Where to go

The report suggests there is a significant “opportunity cost” to the mainstream social media retailers which allow consumers to upload pictures of their cards and addresses to be stored online.

Most forms of payment will continue to use the current system, despite calls for it to be scrapped. It has been widely accepted that consumers would be better off using other channels such as cash, an automated bank transfer or an in-store payment card. But retailers also face the issue of preventing refunds for purchases under £100 made over the internet.

Smart phones, particularly those with their cameras capable of scanning barcodes, might be more useful in identifying fraudsters as a result of the popularity of online fraud.

Campaigning group reports an average 10% of all retail sites currently do not use identity verification checks, as required by UK law.

Text message phishing

Text message phishing may also be a more likely tactic among fraudsters looking to test how likely it is for consumers to hand over their account details over the phone. The Christmas shopping period has been blamed as the greatest target by charities for fraudsters to distribute fake charity alerts, so widespread was the public awareness surrounding Christmas and associated charity scams last year.

These targeted attacks can be hugely successful, too. BBC London’s Crimewatch programme captured a dozen fraudsters posing as charitable appeals and stealing banking details from unsuspecting victims.

Smith added: “More consumers are using their mobile phones and our latest survey of over 3,500 people has revealed that over 80% of people download security apps. Security in the banking world is important, but people are becoming increasingly tech savvy and are no longer looking for banking warnings on their smartphones or on messaging apps. Many of them know if they don’t trust the app they use to update their security status, then they won’t use it.”

In addition to spending additional money on security, knowing the lines of potential fraud and how to prevent and detect it can help protect consumers from falling victim.

• This article was amended on 17 June 2017. AcornPay’s Jim Smith’s full title was chief operating officer not chief executive.

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