Gift Buying Beware: Top Searches Leading to Fraudulent Sites
The festive season is the busiest time of the year for online shopping, with UK consumers spending upwards of £42bn throughout the period between November to January , just on gifts and other non-food items.
The festive season is the peak of online shopping activity as many of us buy gifts for family and friends or look to take advantage of deals in the winter sales. However, while this period is bustling for shoppers and retailers, it also sees a significant increase in scammer activity.
Before you think, “it could never happen to me”, it’s worth considering that 2023 research from broadcast regulator Ofcom found that more than 10 million UK adults have lost money to an online scam .
With scammers becoming more sophisticated than ever before, spotting a fraudulent or dangerous website might be harder than you think, especially if you’re in a rush to grab a deal or ‘must have’ Christmas present.
That’s why our MoneySuperMarket credit card experts have trawled the internet to help uncover the scammers, by analysing the gifts and brands most likely to find you targeted by fraudsters this year.
The MoneySuperMarket Dangerous Gift Guide
Analysing search data, our team curated a list of the most sought-after gifts and items this festive season before searching for them online via search engine shopping links.
Then we created a list of search terms that people might use when looking for a good deal for instance “Mac Book deal”. For each item, we looked at the top 60 results, before running each site through a virus and malware checker. We also carried out a human check on how legitimate each website is to find out how many of the sites are reputable and ‘safe’ to shop through.
The most dangerous toys to buy online
For most parents with younger children, toys and games are at the top of the list when it comes to festive shopping, and just like getting a Turbo Man, demand can reach fever pitch for the ‘must-have’ items each year.
High demand and limited stock can create the perfect conditions for fraudsters to take advantage of hard-working households, and our study found around 15% of all shopping links for toy brands were to scam sites with potentially dangerous malware and viruses.
Perhaps boosted by the runaway success of the 2023 movie, our study found Barbie was the most dangerous toy to search for online, with nearly a quarter (24%) of all shopping links pointing to potentially dangerous websites set up by scammers.
Other toys used as bait by fraudsters included Polly Pocket (23%), Scalextric (21%), Bluey (20%) and Furby (19%).
The most dangerous tech items to buy online
When it comes to tech items, our research found people searching for Apple MacBook Air deals were the most likely to come across potentially dangerous sites, with a third of the sites analysed flagging for potential viruses and scams.
Very close behind in second place, were Samsung Galaxy Buds which found 19 of the 60 sites checked presented dangerous activity.
While you might think more expensive products would be more likely to attract scammers, rounding out the top three most dangerous tech items for 2023 was the Amazon Fire TV Stick, perhaps due to third party websites offering ‘deals’ associated with IPTV and illegal streaming packages.
The most dangerous cosmetic brands to buy online
Of the three categories we looked at, cosmetics had the lowest rate of dangerous sites, with around 1 in 10 (11%) of shopping links showing signs of dangerous or fraudulent activity, compared with 15% of toys and 17% of tech.
Our study found Victoria Beckham Beauty was the brand most likely to be targeted by fraudsters. According to the findings just over a fifth (21%) of all shopping links to the brand were flagged for dangerous activity.
Rounding out the top 5 most dangerous cosmetics brands were Dior Beauty (19%), Merit Beauty (18%), The Ordinary (17%) and Urban Decay (16%)
Kara Gammell, money expert at MoneySuperMarket commented: ”Whether you’re looking for a ‘must have’ gift in limited supply or looking for the best deal to stretch money further, the holiday period is a busy time for shoppers, retailers, and scammers.
“Unfortunately, scammers are more sophisticated than ever before and they don’t care who they target so it's more important than ever to be cautious when shopping online, especially during peak periods.
“Online fraudsters often rely on a ‘first glance’ approach, where everything about the site or page might seem fine when you first look at it, but often falls apart under closer scrutiny. Before putting any of your details into a site you haven’t heard of or used before, take some time to do a quick background check of the site, including reviews on social media and any of their contact and registration details.
“If you can, it’s worth considering using a credit card to make your online purchases to benefit from the added protection of the Consumer Credit Act which offers protection for purchases made with a credit card up to £30,000.
“Finally, as the saying goes, if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful not to get giddy securing the bargain of the century. Most major retailers will have some level of price checking, so if a deal for a hot item ends up being significantly cheaper from an unknown retail site, do your due diligence to avoid being scammed.”
Top tips for staying safe when buying online
Whether you’re looking to scoop up the best deals ahead of the festive season, holiday gift buying, or taking advantage of Boxing Day and January Sales, here are MoneySuperMarket’s top tips to fighting fraudsters:
Use credit cards for purchases:
Credit cards offer additional protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If your purchase is faulty, not as described, or the seller goes out of business, you can usually claim a refund from your credit card provider for amounts between £100 and £30,000. Just be sure to pay any balance off in full each month otherwise you’ll be charged interest on your purchase.
Check customer reviews:
Before making a purchase, check customer reviews and ratings. Genuine reviews can provide insights into the reliability of the seller and the quality of the products. Be cautious if a site has limited or suspicious reviews.
Be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals:
Exercise caution if a deal seems too good to be true. Scam websites often lure shoppers with unbelievably low prices. Verify the legitimacy of the site, and if something feels off, consider shopping elsewhere.
Use reliable security software:
Ensure that your computer or device has up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software. Regularly scan your system to detect and remove any malicious programs. Trusted security software adds an extra layer of defence against online threats.
Avoid clicking on suspicious links:
Be cautious of unsolicited emails, messages, or pop-up ads that may contain links to potentially harmful sites. Avoid clicking on these links, as they could lead you to phishing sites or download malware onto your device. Stick to official websites and use bookmarks to navigate. Remember, shopping links from search engines are not a guarantee of the legitimacy of the site.
Whether you’re looking to spread costs with a 0% purchase period, cashback and reward points on your spending, or just after the added protection on purchases, our MoneySuperMarket credit card comparison service can help find the right card for your circumstances and eligibility without the need for a credit check.
 Source: ONS
 Source: Ofcom: Scale and impact of online fraud revealed 2023.
Using desk research, we curated a seed list of some of the most popular tech items of the year.
Using this seed list, we created a list of search terms that people might use when looking for a good deal on these items, or when shopping in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or January Sales. MacBook Air Deals, MacBook Air Black Friday, MacBook Air Sale etc.
By collecting Google Shopping links for each search query and running them through the SiteCheck malware and security detector tool from Sucuri, we calculated the % of potentially malicious URLs.
Any link that SiteCheck flagged as being of medium or higher risk was counted as potentially malicious.