McAfee report reveals boom in cybercrime as major shift towards online shopping opens up new avenues for scams

Findings by McAfee Corp. in its 2020 Festive Season: State of Today’s e-Shopper survey, reveal that, while consumers are aware of increased risks and scams via the Internet, they still plan to do more shopping online – and earlier – this Christmas. Forty percent of Brits note they are hitting the digital links to give gifts and cheer this year, despite nearly half (46%) feeling that cyber scams become more prevalent during the holiday season.

The Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend in 2019 saw transactions hitting record highs, with the high street seeing 3.3% YOY increases in footfall. This year looks set to take a different shape, as shoppers are forced to seek their bargains online as a result of the national lockdown which will encompass this key Christmas shopping moment. Even before the lockdown was announced, 40% of Brits said they planned to do more Christmas shopping online. Nearly a third (31%) of consumers plan to spend more time online over the festive season as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, opening their risk to online threats as they live, work, play, and buy all through their devices. McAfee’s survey shows shopping activity in general has increased, with 50% stating they are buying online more since the onset of the pandemic. Over 80% of Brits are shopping online at least once a week, with 11% claiming to do so every day.

McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team recently found evidence that online cybercrime continues to increase, with McAfee Labs observing 419 threats per minute in Q2 2020, an increase of almost 12% over the previous quarter. With activity set to rise from both consumers and criminals, there is an added concern of whether consumers are taking security threats as seriously as they should – with key differences seen across generational and regional groups:

  • Only a fifth (22%) of millennials (25-34 year-olds) are concerned about cybercrime when living their lives online
  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of millennials do not check whether Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals received via email or text are authentic and trusted before clicking
  • Over two-thirds of Brits fail to take simple precautions when purchasing gift vouchers online – only 27% check that the link is safe, and nearly a third (31%) simply check the brand name to confirm whether the card is safe
  • Nearly a quarter of those living in the South West (24%) don’t think about cyber-crime as a risk, but those living in the West Midlands and North East should click with caution – nearly a third of residents from these regions (28% and 29% respectively) have previously fallen victim to a festive scam

“Many are wondering what this year’s Christmas will look like as consumers’ shopping behaviours continue to evolve and adapt to the challenges faced throughout 2020,” said Raj Samani, McAfee Fellow and Chief Scientist. “With results showing the growing prevalence of online shopping, consumers need to be aware of how cybercriminals are looking to take advantage and take the necessary steps to protect themselves- and their loved ones- this festive season.”

This juxtaposition of increased online activity from both consumers and cybercriminals serves as the perfect catalyst for malicious misdeeds, especially as 42% of consumers note that while they are aware of cyber risks, they have no plans to change their online buying habits. This less-than-cautious approach is further seen when respondents are offered deals or discounts, with less than half (38%) checking to see if Black Friday or Cyber Monday emails and text messages sent are authentic and trustworthy. Despite this, over a fifth of Brits (21%) have fallen victim to a scam over the festive season, with 16% having lost over £100 as a result.

With Christmas unlikely to see traditional gatherings of friends and family, gift vouchers are proving a popular choice. McAfee’s survey revealed that a fifth (20%) of respondents plan to fulfill this request by purchasing more online gift cards this year. With this alignment set to occur, there are potentially negative implications as 27% of Brits automatically assume gift card links are safe and don’t always take the necessary steps to ensure legitimacy.

McAfee commissioned 3Gem to conduct a survey of 1,000 adults over the age of 18 in the U.K. between October 8-13, 2020.

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