Scam Watch: The 'Microsoft' scam
Today, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that three-quarters (74%) of Brits have bought goods or services online so far in 2015 - a jump from 53% in 2008.
But there are unscrupulous individuals and businesses online who want to take advantage and rip you off.
At Moneywise, we regularly hear from readers who have been duped by websites offering all manner of deals, which - in most cases - are too good to be true, leaving them out of pocket and nervous about shopping online.
To get you up to speed with what to look out for when using the web, we spoke to one of the UK's leading experts on online security about some of the scams currently targeting web users and what you can do to stay safe.
Mike Andrews is the national co-ordinator of the National Trading Standards eCrime team. Since its formation two years ago, the group has led the fight against online crooks who prey on people's naivety online, pursuing criminals and bringing them to court.
So what sort of scams are people falling for and how does the eCrime unit help? Here we look at the 'Microsoft scam'.
Have you been scammed? Let the Moneywise Scam Watch team know by emailing email@example.com
The 'Microsoft' scam
"You'll receive a cold call or an internet pop-up saying that your computer has a problem such as a virus and an offer of help," explains Andrews.
"Normally, the pop-up will claim that it is a message from Microsoft or another reputable company and will encourage you to click on a link or call a number.
"Cold calls, which are generally made from abroad, will ask you if their security team can take remote control of your computer.
"At the end of the call, they will then demand payment for what they have claimed to have done. We have heard stories of people paying hundreds of pounds like this but they will try to get as much as they can, with some paying out thousands."
Andrews says while the financial loss is bad enough, putting your computer in the hands of others could potentially lead to swathes of your personal data being stolen and sold on.
"Think what you have on your computer, if they are working on your computer remotely they have access to your key personal information - bank details, passwords, email, that can then be sold on," he says.
The eCrime team scored a major victory earlier this year against the cyber crooks when they secured a conviction against a UK-based company director whose company was involved in these practices.
"They can be very difficult to track down but the UK director – another was based in Dubai – was given a suspended prison sentence and was ordered by the court to pay more than 50 victims around £26,000 in compensation."
What can you do to stay safe?
- Act online as you would do if you were shopping on the high street. If someone came up to you in the street offering you some diet pills for free, you would just walk on by so why cough up online?
- Make sure you use official websites and don't automatically click on the first search result you see. Often the official sites appear third or fourth in the list.
- Don't pass on your bank details unless you are absolutely sure the company is legitimate - and even then it's usually better to pay by credit card. Purchases of more than £100 are automatically covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, so should anything go wrong, your card provider can refund you. For smaller transactions, PayPal can provide similar peace of mind.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.