Online shoppers targeted by fraudsters last Christmas lost an average £775 each, spooks revealed today.

Con artists swindled the money from people using web-based retail outlets over last year's festive season, according to the National Cyber Security Centre – an arm of the Government's eavesdropping station GCHQ.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to many people who would otherwise hit the high streets to buy gifts taking their custom to the web this month.

Experts urged them to cake care as they shop online – pointing to 17,405 reports of online shopping fraud, reporting a total loss of £13.5million, between November 1 last year and January 31 – an average of £775 per incident, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

Scammers prey on easy-to-guess passwords, warned the NCSC

Announcing the NCSC's ‘Cyber Aware’ campaign, chief executive Lindy Cameron said: “Technology will play an essential role over the festive period, with more people shopping online than ever before.

“Scammers stole millions from internet shoppers last Christmas – but by following our advice, you can protect yourself from the majority of their crimes.

“We hope the Cyber Aware campaign helps people to shop confidently online and enjoy their Christmas.”

The drive urges people to protect online accounts and devices by:

Microsoft UK's chief security adviser Sian John said: “If you are shopping online this year, spend the time you would have spent wrapping up warm to head out to the shops on checking your online security.

Spooks warned people to take care online

“If it feels suspicious or unusual it may well be – and that is why, at Microsoft, we recognise the importance of Cyber Aware behaviours like multi-factor authentication and having strong and secure passwords.

“Let’s make sure the gifts we give this Christmas go to the people we love, not to the fraudsters who just want to steal your money.”

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said: “This year we have spent more time online than ever before.

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, a former Defence Secretary

“Whether it be working or shopping online, criminals and others often see the internet as another means to cause harm.

“As we approach the Christmas season, we should all be on our guard and take the practical Cyber Aware actions to keep us safe as we work, shop and socialise online.”