THE CHRISTMAS shopping bonanza will begin in earnest on Friday, with UK shoppers expected to spend as much as £4.5 billion in a single day.

However, with more than half of these purchases likely to be made online, cyber scammers are likely to be just as excited as retailers at the prospect.

Figures from crime reporting centre Action Fraud show that shoppers lost £58 million in almost 43,000 incidents of online fraud during 2017. Anyone who fails to protect themselves is at risk of adding to this year’s total.

According to price comparison site GoCompare, households plan to spend an average of £165 in this year’s Black Friday sales, a 53 per cent increase on last year, with clothes, accessories, toys, games and electrical goods topping their lists.

A record 57% said they will avoid the crowds by shopping online and 17% will do it via their smartphone, up from just 9% last year.

Georgie Frost, GoCompare’s consumer advocate, said: “Black Friday has grown rapidly to become one of the UK’s biggest shopping events and has transformed from a one-day event on the high street to a three-week long, online marathon.

“As a result, we see behaviours changing, with an increase in household spend and more shopping on smartphones.”

Many of these shoppers will find themselves lining the pockets of criminals. According to Shieldpay, a third of 16 to 34 year olds, nearly a quarter of 35 to 44 year olds and one in eight over 45s have fallen victim to cyber fraud.

Tom Clementson, the secure payment provider’s consumer director, said: “It is crucial that people stick to safe practice and be vigilant when buying online.”

To ensure online crime does not spoil your festive shopping experience, stick to well-known websites and watch out for lookalike sites designed to steal passwords or financial information. These can generally be identified by poor spelling, grammar or graphics.

If you want to buy from a small seller, do it via a well-established marketplace such as Amazon, eBay, NotOnTheHighStreet or Etsy.

If your chosen item is available only from a site you are not familiar with, search for reviews of the seller to identify potential problems.

Whoever you decide to buy from, check for a padlock icon beside the web address and make sure that the address begins with “https” rather than just “http”.

It is also important to take heed of any safety warnings sent from your browser. To ensure your software includes the latest security improvements, switch on automatic updates and keep the firewall on your computer activated to protect against viruses, other malware and hackers.

Use strong passwords including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Make passwords different for each site and never give a seller more information than the basics required to complete a transaction.

If you are asked to answer personal questions to authenticate or retrieve account information, consider using false details, as it is surprisingly easy for criminals to find answers such as your mother’s maiden name or the name of your first pet by trawling online.

If you shop on a smartphone, where possible, use retailers’ apps rather than websites, as mobile browsers do not always display full web addresses, making it harder to avoid copycat sites.

Never use public wi-fi as it is too easy for hackers to intercept transactions. Use your phone’s data connection instead – you should be able to link this to your tablet or laptop via the settings menu.

If you cannot avoid shopping over public wi-fi, use a private, paid-for VPN (virtual private network) to create a secure, encrypted link between device and retailer.

Never follow links in emails or texts advertising special offers as these could lead to fake sites set up to steal your details. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Before finalising a purchase, check the retailer’s contact information and returns policy in case anything goes wrong.

Never pay by bank transfer. For purchases over £100, use a credit card to get additional protection if the seller goes bust, goods fail to arrive or are faulty.

For smaller transactions, opting for PayPal avoids sharing card details, and if there is a problem you can use its dispute resolution process.

When you finish shopping, sign out of the site fully to ensure no one else can access your data, and, if you are using a shared computer, clear the cookies.

Check bank and credit card statements regularly and query transactions you do not recognise. If you think you have been the victim of fraud, report it at