How to help your customers avoid online fraud

Here, Tony Anscombe reveals five important steps businesses can take to help their customers in the battle against online fraud.

UK consumers are more likely to be a victim of online fraud than any other type of offence in the UK. They’re 20 times more likely to be scammed out of money on the web than to be mugged in the street.

According to the latest figures, British consumers face one-in-ten odds of becoming a victim of cybercrime. The police deal with more cases of online fraud these days than all other types of crime combined.

So, if you are selling online and your customer has not been a victim of cybercrime, there is a strong chance they know someone who has: a neighbour, colleague, friend or relative perhaps.

The average loss for a male victim was £2,354 last year; three times more than the typical sum lost by women (£809). Yet women are six times more likely than men to be the victims of online shopping fraud.

Not a new crime, but the scale is

There’s nothing new about cybercrime. What is new is how its scale and frequency in the UK are being reported.

When the latest official figures were released this summer – revealing that fraud and cybercrime were now the UK’s most common offences – it was headline news in broadsheet and tabloid papers alike and it was the lead story across the main broadcast channels.

Since then, hackers and hacking have rarely been out of the news. In just the last month, there have been reports of stolen or cloned UK passports for sale for as little £800 and stolen personal credentials being used by fraudsters to open bank accounts.

There has also been news of 500 million Yahoo! accounts being compromised in what appears to be the world’s biggest single hack to date.

And according to the UK’s National Crime Agency, it’s not hi-tech, sophisticated international criminal gangs that are posing the most common threat to consumers: ‘The majority of cyber criminals have relatively low technical capability. Their attacks are increasingly enabled by the growing online criminal marketplace, which provides easy access to sophisticated and bespoke tools and expertise, allowing these less skilled cyber criminals to exploit a wide range of vulnerabilities.’

How you can help your business and customers

With Black Friday (November 25th), Small Business Saturday (December 3rd) and Christmas on our doorstep, online sales are about to go through the roof. In the rush to find the perfect gift, this is exactly the time shoppers may be less vigilant and more open to being scammed. This is the perfect time for small businesses to do all they can to help their customers avoid being a victim of online fraud.

Cybercrime has clearly affected, and will affect, a lot of people and here are three thoughts about what customers may be thinking when it comes to buying from you over the internet, and what you can do to reassure them and make the most of each potential sale:

• They’ll doubt every word…

If you’ve relied on email marketing offers to generate traffic to your website, welcome to a world where consumers are increasingly sceptical about what lands in their inbox. Is it a scam or does it look like spam? Does it sound too good to be true? Those are the questions consumers are being counselled to ask.

Click-throughs to your website may be much harder to come by. Make sure everything about your email is 100 per cent accurate because it’s simple things like spelling mistakes, or out-of-this-world offers, that can trigger alarm bells and lose you a sale.

• Multi-factor verification

Online customers will be looking for strong evidence they can trust your e-commerce process to keep their personal and card payment details secure. They’re already looking for things like the padlock symbol in the address field of their web browser, but increasingly they’ll expect to go through several steps when logging in or at the checkout.

We’re not just talking about strong passwords, we’re talking about consumers expecting to have to take two or three different security steps, depending on the scale of the transaction involved: it may be to verify their email, re-enter their password just before payment is taken, or to provide a mobile number to which a one-time verification code can be sent.

• Alternative payment solutions

Consumers may want to use their debit and credit cards on your website, but you should consider offering them alternative ways to pay.

PayPal buttons, for example, can be quickly and easily implemented and offer an extra layer of protection if a customer doesn’t want to use their bank cards. This means they can pay you without having to hand over their card details or risk making a mistake when entering them and having their card frozen.

If you do offer these alternative methods, make it clear on your site and explain how it works, eg in PayPal’s case, it’s good to remind customers that they don’t need to have a PayPal account to use the service. Lowering any barriers to understanding can encourage people to stick with your site and complete the purchase.

The first official figures about cybercrime have confirmed what industry insiders have known for a long time; online fraud is far more common and costlier than most people had realised.

Now the scale of the problem has been revealed – and the volume and profile of media coverage of the issue has increased – we can expect that positive messages about improving consumer habits when buying online will start to get through.

The best advice for businesses right now is to reflect on what messaging and support they provide to consumers about online safety; after all, we’re very close to the busy final quarter of the year.

So does your website make people feel confident and secure? Are you, as a business, taking security seriously enough and providing consumers with the protection they increasingly expect as well as deserve?

Tony Anscombe is senior security evangelist at AVG Business

Further reading on online fraud and cyber crime

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