Christmas can be a boom time for online retailers and bargain-hunting consumers alike. At the same time however, lurking on the Dark Web are fraudsters and rogue employees looking to ruin your festive shopping spree. Commercial disputes lawyer and cyber-crime expert, Oliver Smith looks at combatting the festive online fraud onslaught.

The winter holidays are the gift that keeps on giving for cyber criminals who thrive on popular promotional dates such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the January sale season. Indeed, theft of sensitive data from online businesses is a serious and growing problem, according to official figures for the High Court which show a 25% rise in data theft cases by disgruntled employees in 2016. Increased reliance on technology has made businesses more vulnerable to theft of large volumes of valuable data such as customer email addresses or other sensitive information like profit margins or passwords. The number of passwords consumers now have to remember means they, understandably, often use the same or similar passwords for many of their accounts. When one is compromised it can make other accounts vulnerable.

There are, however, technical and legal solutions available to the savvy online retailer and shopper. Many big tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google offer encrypted password apps which will remember or create any number of complex different passwords for all your online accounts. The best part is that you only need to remember one password to use it. Meanwhile, there are many new software programs for businesses to help them police and protect their data. This will become particularly important when the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into operation on 25 May 2018 which makes certain individuals at companies responsible for data breaches and allows large fines based on a percentage of annual turnover.

As a last resort, businesses may have to seek assistance from the courts by seeking an urgent interim injunction to stop a rogue employee using stolen data or selling it to a competitor. In extreme cases a judge may even allow solicitors, under supervision of another independent solicitor, to carry out an unannounced search of the ex-employee’s home, new office or computers to find and preserve evidence of wrongdoing.

But what about consumers?

Shoppers concerned that a data breach may have affected them or led to them being defrauded online can contact the Information Commissioner’s Office online for help in securing their data or claiming compensation. If the matter is high value or urgent, an intellectual property solicitor should be consulted.