How to shop better this Christmas

Counterfeit goods, fraudulent websites, overspending – there are real dangers for Christmas shoppers

Felicity Hannah
Friday 22 November 2019 15:25
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Black Friday has become the unofficial start of the festive shopping frenzy
Black Friday has become the unofficial start of the festive shopping frenzy

Christmas music has been playing in the shops for weeks already, and now the festive adverts have hit your TV screens and social media feeds too. When did we start sharing retailers’ adverts for them, anyway?

Unless you’re one of those sickeningly sorted few who have already done their Christmas shopping, the chances are that you will be hitting the high street or the internet in the next few days.

But whenever you need to do a lot of shopping fast there are perils, and not just the risk of forgetting Auntie Audrey’s allergies and sending her sugared almonds.

Shopping online, in particular, can leave you vulnerable to fraudsters and counterfeiters, especially if you are in a hurry or chasing this year’s must-have toy.

Here are some of the potential pitfalls this Christmas – and how to avoid them.

Fraudulent websites

It’s become easier for criminals to publicise their fraudulent websites thanks to social media. Well-meaning users share what looks like a great deal and that encourages their friends to trust the website in question and make purchases.

Meanwhile, we are all more susceptible to fraud if we are chasing a bargain. Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “There’s a reason it’s known as Black Fraud Day in the industry.

“In the five years since Black Friday was established as a fixture in the UK shopping calendar, it has become the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping frenzy. The sheer number of people going online for bargains, and the fact we’re under pressure to buy in a hurry, means we’re particularly vulnerable to fraudsters.”

Research by secure payment provider Shieldpay shows that more than three-quarters of shoppers admit using websites they wouldn’t normally shop on during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

That has an impact – a quarter of shoppers have fallen victim to fraud on those days as they hunt down what looks like a great deal. They lose an average of £218, though an unlucky 8 per cent lose over £500.

Staying safe means taking your time and not being rushed by what seems to be a bargain. Tom Clementson, the director of consumer at Shieldpay, says: “Utilising technology that secures transactions is one way to do this.

“Alongside that, simple steps like only shopping on trusted websites, checking the website is secure and never clicking on links in unexpected emails go some way to keeping money safe.”

Counterfeit goods

Knock-off products such as counterfeit clothes and toys don’t just have a negative impact on the companies that make the real thing – they can also be dangerous to consumers.

Fake goods are unlikely to be made to the same quality as the genuine item and may be poor quality so won’t last long. They will also not have been through the same safety checks as genuine goods, putting people at risk of unsafe electrical goods and even health risks from components of toys and clothing.

Searching online for presents can put consumers at real risk of falling victim to counterfeits.

As much as 60 per cent of the links on some internet search engine results pages are for websites that sell fake and possibly dangerous goods, research by brand protection company Incopro shows.

Fact, an intellectual property protection agency, urges shoppers not to be fooled by large money-off deals because legitimate designer items are rarely heavily discounted.

It advises consumers to look to see where the trader is based and if they give an address, and suggests checking the spelling and grammar of the website, including the URL.

Shoppers should also check the website address begins “https” at the payment stage, as the “s” indicates a secure payment.

If you do accidentally buy an item you later realise is counterfeit you can report it to Action Fraud or call 0300 123 2040. Your local Trading Standards office can also give you advice.

Overspending

Christmas can be an expensive time and many people feel real pressure to spend more than they can afford on gifts and entertainment.

That pressure can be particularly intense for parents who want their children to have everything they want – but that can be a painfully expensive situation.

The debt management company PayPlan surveyed 1,000 people and found that 55 per cent of parents will rely on their credit cards to cover their essential living costs this Christmas, including household bills.

Half of parents say they feel stressed by their finances as Christmas draws near. Whatever your financial situation, setting a budget you can afford and sticking to it is the answer for a Christmas that’s safer for your bank balance.

Needless waste

Most of us are making improvements on the amount of single-use and throw-away plastics we buy (some people are going much further) but that can often go out of the window at Christmas.

From tacky presents that no one really needs to stocking fillers and crackers filled with tatty toys, Christmas can cause a mountain of expensive waste.

The organisation BusinessWaste.co.uk estimates that more than 40 million Christmas crackers will end up in the bin on 25 December. It surveyed 1,100 families about their Christmas habits and found that 99 per cent said they simply threw Christmas cracker gifts in the bin at the end of the day.

Deciding not to spend money on unnecessary junk that doesn’t actually enhance the day is better for the planet and definitely better for your wallet.

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