Dubai: Given the vast number of virtual payment and banking options, UAE consumers are increasingly going online to shop and transact with their bank. Recent data show that more than half of residents in the country access the internet to make purchases alone.

But while you might think that buying clothes on the internet or swiping your credit card at a coffee shop is now more secure than ever, think again. According to security experts, cyber criminals are becoming aggressive in finding ways to access your personal data in order to steal your money.

Mohammed Abukhater, regional director for Middle East and Africa at FireEye, a payment and cyber security intelligence company, cautioned that with the proliferation of mobile devices and expansion of banking services, banks and other financial organisations in the GCC are facing the biggest threat these days.

“Online banking services and online shopping portals, as well as credit cards and debit cards, are potentially at risk,” Abukhater told Gulf News. “Organisations would be well-advised to think ahead and have a strong cyber defence infrastructure in place to combat a new wave of threats by a new generation of savvy attackers.”

There haven’t been any major security breaches reported publicly by financial institutions in the UAE, but this doesn’t mean consumers have not lost any money to cyber criminals. “This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been financially damaging attacks in the GCC,” said Abukhater.

“Around the world, bank breaches often go unreported to regulators and the wider public because the losses are not deemed material. That doesn’t mean they’re not a significant problem.”

According to Norton by Symantec, at least 2 million residents in the country reported having experienced cybercrime in one year and lost Dh4.9 billion in the process.

The Gulf Cooperation Council region is considered an energy powerhouse and it has established itself as a hub for finance, aviation, retail, tourism and real estate. This makes the region attractive to cyber criminals.

“This has made entities and governments in the region an enticing target for myriad cyberattackers and threat groups, who often go after financial resources, intellectual property and crippling critical infrastructure, ” said  Abukhater.

“Geopolitics are also another factor behind the region drawing the attention of cyber attackers."

The Online Shopping Behaviour study released by MasterCard in 2015 showed that a growing number of consumers is relying on the internet for their shopping needs. Most people go online to buy air tickets, book hotels and get the latest gadgets and clothes.

“Online is quickly becoming the norm for more shoppers in the UAE due to the high level of awareness amongst consumers about the convenience, speed and safety of their transactions,” said Aaron Oliver, head of emerging payments for Middle East and Africa at MasterCard.

To avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud, here are some tips you can use:

1.Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.

2.Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.

3.Be cautious of e-mails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Always run a virus scan on attachment before opening.

4.Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.

5.Always compare the link in the e-mail to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.

6.Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.

7. Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify that the e-mail is genuine.

8. If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act impulsively.

9. If you receive a request for personal information from a business or financial institution, always look up the main contact information for the requesting company on an independent source (phone book, trusted Internet directory, legitimate billing statement, etc.) and use that contact information to verify the legitimacy of the request.

10. Remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Source: FBI