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5 Tips on Staying Safe While Shopping Online

5 Tips on Staying Safe While Shopping Online

The World Wide Web has truly enriched and transformed the world of shopping, with many of us now buying almost everything digitally; from electronics to groceries. However, buying online can be risky business if you are not super vigilant. With so much choice, and so many websites offering the temptations of extra special deals and offers, it can be difficult to navigate the web safely. Reports of online shopping fraud have increased by 30% over the course of the pandemic, as online shopping has become a vital method of getting hold of goods, for many of us.

Here, we give our top five tips for staying safe and secure while shopping online:

1. Ensure that your connection is genuinely secure

A secure connection is vital for safe browsing, as otherwise it leaves your sensitive personal data and payment information vulnerable to intrusion from cyber-criminals. There are a number of ways to ensure your connection is secure; firstly, think about the network you are using, and secondly, that your connection to the site is secure.

Although many of us often rely on public Wi-Fi when it comes to browsing the web, it is important to be aware that sharing payment credentials using a non-private connection puts this information at risk. Public networks are often unsecure, and prime for attack by scammers. Using your mobile data, a VPN, or your own private Wi-Fi keeps your connection private, and your precious payment details safe.

Another thing to do when seeking to pay online securely, is to check your browser bar for the “https” URL and padlock symbol. HTTPS is an online safety protocol which encrypts your information so it can be sent securely. The ‘s’ stands for secure! You should also ensure that there is a 'closed padlock' icon in the browser's address bar. If the padlock icon is not present, or your browser indicates your connection is not secure, do not use the site or enter any personal or payment details. Please note that the padlock icon does not guarantee that the retailer is legitimate or reputable, it simply means that the connection is secure.

2. Stick with trusted brands that have a strong reputation

It can be tempting to order from an unknown website in the pursuit of a better deal. However, remember the mantra ‘if it’s too good to be true – it probably is!’ A lot of phony websites will attempt to lure you in with low prices and special offer, in the hope that you will quickly rush to snap up the deal before you think about the reliability of the source.

Sticking with brands you already know is a good idea, providing you with peace of mind that the price and quality are probably about right. Further, it is likely that such well-established companies will have strong security procedures in place. However, you should be vigilant of deceptive websites posing as reputable retailers, as such sites can swindle out of your hard-earned cash, or even make you a victim of identity or data fraud. You should also make sure that the URL of the site you are buying from matches the purported name, as imitation sites will have a slightly different URL, hoping that unsuspecting shoppers will not notice. Keep an eye out for misspellings in the URL, or sites using a different domain, such as ‘.net’ rather than ‘.com’.

There are also many other ways of verifying the reliability of a site you are browsing. If you find a product or deal on a website you have never heard about before, you can make use of the many tools which can help you determine whether or not the site is trustworthy. Try looking at Yelp and Google Reviews, and see if the page is listed on Trustpilot or another consumer review platform. If you cannot find any information about a website anywhere else online, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid using it.

3. Check your statements regularly

When it comes to shopping in general, there is always a small risk of your payment credentials falling into the wrong hands. Indeed, this is also the case when it comes to shopping in-person, as there may be a small possibility of an ATM machine being rigged, or a watchful eye spotting the details on your credit card.

In general, you should be regularly checking your payment statements, whether this is your payment provider or your bank statements. Keep your receipts, and make sure that all charges on your account match up, and that there are not additional or incorrect charges. If you see anything you are suspicious about, contact your bank to discuss this with them. They may have further access to see what is causing such charges, and they have the ability to stop and remedy any potentially fraudulent activity.

4. Use payment services or a credit card rather than a debit card

Online payment platforms such as Paypal, Apple Pay or Google Pay may also be a good option if you shop online frequently, as using such platforms afford you an extra layer of security. This is the case, as paying using such services means the retailers you buy from will not have access to your own payment details, and such platforms tend to have strong security measures. With platforms such as Paypal, you can also control the amount of money in your account, thus helping to minimise any potential losses. Further, they also provide their own dispute resolution procedures, which can help you recover any money taken fraudulently. When looking to use such services, however, make sure you check that their buyer protection policies offer you the same level of protection as your card provider.

5. Only provide enough details to complete your purchase

You only need to fill in the mandatory details on a website when making a purchase, and you should default to giving up as little personal information as possible. Typically, mandatory fields are marked by an asterisk (*), and include information such as delivery address and payment information, information which is intuitively required for the completion of the transaction. You should not have to provide security details, such as your mother’s maiden name, your first school, or your pet’s name, to complete a purchase. No retailer should require you to enter information that is not absolutely necessary for the purchase, and if it surprises you that a site requires a piece of personal information, you should resort to treating the website with great suspicion, and cease entering any further data.

When paying online, if possible, complete the payment as a guest, rather than making an account and providing further information. Often, websites will ask if they can store your payment information for future use; you should decline this, unless you are absolutely certain the website is reliable, that they have robust security procedures in place, and you plan to make regular purchases on the site.