If that Christmas sales games console online-only bargain looks too good to be true – then it probably is.

That’s the message from Oxfordshire’s fraud cops, tasked to deal with ever more reports of people being scammed online.

Nationally, last year shoppers lost £15.4m to ‘too good to be true’ Christmas deals. More than 28,000 people told Action Fraud they’d been scammed by shopping deals over the festive period in 2020 – an increase of 61 per cent on the previous year.

For Mark Godsland, a cyber security adviser with Thames Valley Police, there are five golden rules to avoid falling prey to the internet fraudsters.

One of the most important is that mantra of all fraud officers: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.

“Choose carefully where you shop,” he said.

“If you are aimlessly typing into your search engine ‘bargains for Xboxes’, whilst the search engines generally don’t take people to fraudulent websites occasionally it happens. And if you’re not on your guard you could inadvertently choose a fraudulent website that purports to have massive discounts.

“When you think about it, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is a fraud.

“People see this bargain and they engage in it. No product arrives, they have the money taken out of their bank account and they have no recourse to get their money back.”

Always use a credit card to make payments online as it’s easier to recoup at least some of your money if the product never arrives.

Mr Godsland added: “Only provide enough information online to complete the purchase. Is it required to put your full date of birth? Is it right to put in your mother’s maiden name? Probably not. That can be used by criminals online to harvest information about people.”

Unsolicited text messages or emails asking you to click links should also be avoided – and can be reported to the National Cyber Security Centre by forwarding them to report@phishing.gov.uk.

Installing software and security updates, using different – strong – passwords for different online accounts and using two-factor authentication requiring you to, for example, input a code from a text message to sign into your emails can also help deter the fraudsters, Mr Godsland said.

“Every week I am tasked to contact victims of crime and a good majority of them – not all – are where their email accounts and social media accounts have been taken over.

“That is usually through two different means. They haven’t got a strong and unique password and they haven’t got two factor authentication set up.”

For more advice, visit: www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok

Got a story for us? Send us your news and pictures here

List an event for free on our website here