Gareth Barton, Assistant Manager, Forensics and Investigation Services

Gareth Barton
Gareth Barton

There is no doubt that COVID-19 restrictions have had a significant impact on footfall on the high street, and as such the need and demand for online shopping has drastically risen.

Whilst online shopping has its benefits and is convenient for most, it also creates many opportunities for fraudsters.

This is a popular time of year for fraudsters, not due to their excitement of seeing if they are on the naughty or nice list but because they seek to exploit the millions of people who shop online during the festive period.

With Christmas swiftly approaching, fraudsters are in full knowledge that people, in the heat of the moment, are especially vulnerable when trying to snap up an online bargain.

During this festive period, fraudsters will continue to adapt their techniques in an attempt to manipulate the given situation and ultimately fool the public, to steal both money and personal information.

Phishing emails are one of the most comment techniques. These are emails sent by fraudsters purporting to come from a genuine brand.

These have been used recently to promote online Christmas deals in an attempt to get you to click on the links and by doing so re-directing you to a malicious/fake website. These can also purportedly come from banks or government agencies.

Fraudsters are extremely good at sending phishing emails claiming to be from genuine organisations, so it is imperative not to click on any links contained within the email.

You should also take a moment to question the integrity of the email – that is, who it is from and what it is relating to, as quite often they are not even relevant to you.

Another ever-increasing scam being used in 2020 has been the use of fake listings posted on auction websites and social media marketplaces.

As part of this scam, fraudsters encourage people to pay via bank transfer instead of the usual integrated payment platform such as PayPal, which means people are also less likely to be able to recover the funds.

According to UK Finance’s Half Year Fraud Update 2020, more than £27m was lost to this type of fraud in that six-month period.

It is recommended that high value items be purchased from trusted sellers rather than online marketplaces and auction websites. If you are asked to complete a transaction via bank transfer, you should stop, as it is almost certain that you will not be able to retrieve your money, whereas if you pay with a debit or credit card you do have some chance of getting your money back.

At this time of year, it is important to be particularly vigilant, and to take the time to stop and challenge any deal that seems ‘too good to be true’ – it probably is!

For further information or advice, Gareth Barton can be contacted at  

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services.