Christmas shoppers forgo online safety checks

Concerns that Brits could put themselves at risk of online fraud this Christmas

New research among shoppers has shown that more than two thirds of those surveyed* leave out key safety checks when shopping online, prompting fears that shoppers could be putting themselves at risk of fraud this Christmas.

The research from National Trading Standards found that 68% of respondents tend to leave out at least one simple safety check when shopping online, such as looking for signs that the website is using a secure, encrypted connection, looking at the returns policy or searching for reviews of the seller.

Reasons for leaving out these vital checks included ‘being in a rush’ (24%) and ‘because I am looking for the cheapest offer’ (23%), with one in five people admitting that they don’t know what to look for (21%).

With most Brits planning to shop online for presents this festive season[1], National Trading Standards is advising people to take their time and do their research before pressing ‘purchase’.

Warning over social media purchases

Just under one in three people (28%) admitted to buying items from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – or websites promoted through these platforms.

Purchasing products via social media sites is notoriously risky as they are awash with misleading advertising, counterfeit and unsafe products, subscription traps and many other scams. As part of its work to keep consumers safe online the National Trading Standards eCrime Team has helped remove 9,000 social media profiles and websites peddling counterfeit goods since 2015 and has been involved in over 100 investigations.

Stopping goods at national entry points

National Trading Standards is also working at key ports, airports and postal hubs to detain unsafe products destined to end up under the Christmas tree. In recent weeks just one of the teams, based at Thurrock Council, has detained items including:

  • 200 wooden pull-along train toys which posed both a choking hazard and a strangulation hazard
  • 431 sets of LED Christmas lights which were imported from China but failed to comply with EU safety laws
  • 50 sets of jewellery (consisting of a tiara, necklace and earrings) which was found to be unsafe, with the tiara containing 886 times the maximum limit of cadmium, a chemical element known to cause cancer
  • 144 cartons of assorted toys including bouncing balls, yo-yo balls, fidget spinners and toy guns which contained hazards including LED lights and button cell batteries which could be easily removed and swallowed
  • 90 wireless toy drones which did not comply with safety standards for reasons such as exposed lithium batteries and unenclosed blades.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards said: “As Christmas delivery deadlines draw closer it can be tempting to rush your online purchases, but I would urge people to take their time and do simple safety checks before pressing ‘purchase’.

“These checks aren’t infallible, but by taking the precautions that are available to us we can make it less likely that we will end up with something unsatisfactory – or dangerous – under the Christmas tree.

“National Trading Standards teams around the country are working tirelessly to protect consumers this Christmas by tackling fraud online and preventing unsafe items from entering the country. To help us continue to clamp down on this issue we urge you to report any suspicious websites or dodgy vendors to the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06”.

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive, Chartered Trading Standards Institute said: “Research like this is instrumental to the future success of trading standards services. With funding stretched dangerously thin, intricate knowledge of consumers’ online shopping habits means local services can focus their remaining resources to best support consumers in their area.”

“National Trading Standards is essential to UK consumer protection, and offer crucial funding for Local Authorities to tackle to key issues that affect millions.”

Consumer Minister Margot James said: “The UK has a strong consumer protection regime, but people still need to make sure they are taking the same precautions online that they would in person when buying products. Christmas is a good time for people to start checking before they buy to make sure they are protected when ordering online.”

National Trading Standards Buy Safe Checklist

Look closely at the website before you hit the ‘buy’ button:

  • Try searching for reviews of the product or the seller – do these seem genuine?
  • Are there lots of spelling or grammar mistakes on the site? This can be a clue that a business is not professionally run.
  • See if you can find out where the company’s head office is based – and whether that fits with how the website presents itself.
  • Do they have a landline number you can call if there are any problems? Bear in mind that if the company is based abroad, it can be more difficult to get a complaint dealt with or return a faulty product.
  • Read the small print – notice if anything seems odd, repetitive or in incorrect English.
  • Is there an ‘s’ at the end of the ‘http’ part of the web address, or is there a padlock symbol in the task bar? This means the website is using an encrypted system that keeps your details more secure.
  • Be wary of promotions and discount offers that appear on your social media feeds – these can look authentic as they often try to imitate genuine brands, but in many cases the link will take you to a ‘copycat’ website selling fake or counterfeit products at discount prices.

Don’t be dazzled by a bargain: Are the prices incredibly low? If they look too good to be true, they probably are – particularly if some of your other checks have put doubts in your mind.

Be aware that criminals exploit high demand: When items like branded children’s toys start to sell out at well-known retailers, the void is quickly filled by crooks churning out poor quality imitations that can put children in danger. Don’t ‘panic buy’ from the first website you find – do your usual common-sense checks.

Report it: National Trading Standards needs your help to clamp down on unsafe products from abroad. If you believe that any online or face-to-face seller is selling potentially dangerous goods, or something you’ve bought has made you suspicious, report it to Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Buying online for onward sale online? If you do this you are assuming the legal responsibilities of a business to ensure that what you’re selling complies with product safety and intellectual property legislation. For information about this visit


Notes to Editors

For more information about this case or for general enquiries about National Trading Standards please call 020 7025 7570 or e-mail

Notes to editors

* Research carried out in November 2017 by Censuswide among 1,000 UK adults

About National Trading Standards

  • National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally
  • The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
  • National Trading Standards teams are based within local authority trading standards services
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