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Black Friday: how to avoid scams when shopping for deals

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t only on shoppers’ and retailers’ radars – scammers take any opportunity they can to exploit our eye for a bargain, and last year used the busy shopping days to defraud consumers in the UK of £2.5m.

According to the banking trade body UK Finance, theatre tickets and e-scooters are targeted by criminals – but it adds “whichever gift you might be seeking a deal on, it’s likely fraudsters are looking to exploit it”.

You can reduce your chance of falling victim to a scam by taking the following steps when you shop.

If it appears too good to be true, it probably is

If a retailer is offering at item at a much lower cost than everyone else, stop and think before you open your wallet – and if you have never heard of the seller before, or have followed a link from an unsolicited email or a social media post, step back. Some of these “too good to be true” prices will be for counterfeit goods; some will be for items that don’t even exist. Lloyds Bank says purchase scams involving goods that don’t arrive cost victims an average of £190 each, and the top 10 items involved include popular Black Friday buys such as phones, games consoles and trainers.

View image in fullscreenIf you pay by credit card there are ways to get your money back if something goes wrong. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

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Check the URL

Criminals sometimes used cloned websites to trap victims, so if you follow a link to a retailer, you should scrutinise the URL to check that it is genuine – somewhere there will be a giveaway that it is wrong. If you are typing in the URL yourself, make sure you check your spelling before you hand over payment details – if you’re unlucky, then a typo could land you on one of these rogue sites. Away from the address bar, check spelling and grammar – poor English and lots of spelling mistakes should be cause for concern.

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Don’t pay by bank transfer

Paying money straight from your account into someone else’s comes with no protection, so do not be persuaded to do so. Credit and debit cards offer ways of getting your money back if something goes wrong (on credit card payments, the item needs to cost more than £100 for section 75 protection to kick in), and PayPal has its own scheme to reimburse buyers who don’t get what they paid for.

Research the retailer

When you use comparison tools such as PriceRunner or Google Shopping you may find a good deal at a little-known retailer. Before you hand over your cash, make sure you do a bit of due diligence. Check the website for company names and addresses, which you can verify on the Companies House website. If there is no address on the website, it could be a fake. Search for the retailer on a review site such as Trustpilot. People are quick to post if they have had bad experiences, and a number of one-star reviews and tales of non-delivery should be a strong warning sign.

Be extra careful on online marketplaces

View image in fullscreenBe wary of texts purporting to be from delivery firms and asking for payment or personal details. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Genuine websites can be used by fraudsters, too. Data from NatWest shows its customers have reported scams that started with adverts on Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, eBay and Gumtree. If you are tempted by anything you see advertised on these sites, look at the seller’s history: are they new to the platform or do they have a good track record? Do they have good reviews from past buyers? Use the on-platform messaging services and don’t be persuaded to pay by bank transfer.

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Be wary of texts from delivery firms

The danger doesn’t stop once you’ve paid for your goods – until they arrive you may be susceptible to scammers preying on the boom in online shopping. Texts and emails purporting to be from delivery firms and asking for payment or personal details before they attempt redelivery have been a growth industry this year. Think twice before you click on the link and give any information. Visit the retailer’s website and use the order tracker to see where your parcel is, and if you think there is a chance that the text or email might be genuine, go directly to the courier’s website without clicking on the link.