March 27, 2009 3:42 pm

New alert after online theft doubles

Online shoppers are being advised to protect themselves against a doubling in cyber-crime. Last year, thieves stole more than £50m through website purchases, according to the UK payments association, up from £22m the year before.

And there are now signs that banks may be looking for ways to avoid responsibility for covering these losses. Under the Banking Code, those who have not acted with “reasonable care” to protect their details won’t be protected. However, “reasonable care” no longer means safeguarding PIN details but having up-to-date antivirus software and avoiding malicious emails.

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Banking security expert Steven Murdoch, from the University of Cambridge, says the most effective protection should come from the banks, but there are some things that consumers can do.

Get Safe Online (www.getsafeonline.org ), the government-backed consumer website, is a good place to start. It offers a range of tips and advice.

Emails from unknown sources, especially those with attachments, may contain a virus to infect your computer and steal details, and so should be left unopened and immediately deleted. It is also possible to download software that can protect a computer from attack. The best known packages are those from Norton, McAfee and Kaspersky. These can be found and downloaded from an online search. It’s also a good idea to update the software regularly. Hackers also find to easier to infect computers through old versions of web browsers, so renewing computer program such as Internet Explorer can make it harder for them.

Even so, Murdoch says 80 per cent of viruses go undetected by virus checkers.

Some of the simplest ways to protect the security of bank details online are those that many online shoppers ignore. Using different passwords for online accounts, and making the passwords as complex as possible, can prevent hackers who obtain one password from gaining access to a customer’s details elsewhere.

Similarly, destroying personal details in letters and on personal files on computers no longer used is always a good idea. The Royal Mail offers a registration service to ensure that, if you move house, old banks statements and personal letters are no longer sent to your old address.

When looking at shopping sites, keep an eye out for the ISISI padlock logo on website shopping sites, which shows that a website has been vetted for security. And if making a purchase, consider using the advanced security offered by Visa and Mastercard, which adds another layer of password protrection. Verified By Visa and MasterCard Secure Code require extra Pin numbers and passwords for added security. Paypal, a service that ensures baking details are not handed to retailers, may also prevent your details from being extracted from an online transaction.

Finally, using a credit card when shopping might be one of the best precautionary measures available. Items worth between £100 and £30,000 are protected by the credit card company whebn purchased with a card.

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