Online shopping has become increasingly popular over the years because it is convenient. You can quickly compare prices. You can search for exactly what you want without having to browse hundreds of rails or fight through crowds of people. This is particularly true at busier times of the year like Christmas, when shopping centers can become unbearably busy and overwhelming. So why not just save yourself the bother and get your goods delivered straight to your door?
The only downside to online shopping is that its increasing popularity has also led to increased cybercrime and online scammers looking to steal your personal information or your money. Action Fraud found that there were as many as 42,949 incidents of online shopping fraud (and probably more) in just one year, resulting in total losses of around £58 million.
That being said, these shocking statistics should not put you off splashing your cash online. After all, online shopping has become a quick and convenient way to get what you need without having to make a trip into town; from clothes and gifts to food and medication, you really can get everything you need to be sent straight to your door!
So how can you protect yourself from scammers and criminals looking to cheat you out of your money? First, educate yourself on best practices when shopping online and ensure you’re always taking precautions. To help you do this, we’ve put together a list of eight tips for staying safe when shopping over the internet – and here it is.
- Get familiar with the signs of a scam.
Firstly, it’s good to educate yourself on the most recognizable signs of an online shopping scam so you can keep an eye out for these when browsing online. Some of the biggest red flags you need to be aware of are:
- A lack of contact information for the company
- An unsecured network
- Asking for too many personal details when checking out
- Offers that are way too good to be true
- Fake trust seals
- Bad reviews from past customers
- Unprotected payment methods
- No other online presence (such as social media)
- Asking for payment upfront
These are some of the most common signs of payment fraud, and keeping these at the forefront of your mind when shopping online can quickly alert you to a problem and save you from making a costly mistake.
- Choose familiar brands
It’s best to shop with familiar brands; perhaps those you would typically see on the high street or other popular brands you know are safe bets. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t try different places and new businesses, but if you do, it’s worth doing a bit of research first. Check out review sites and social media to see what other consumers have said about them. Nine times out of ten, this will reveal if they are legitimate or not.
- Create strong passwords
If you already have an account with them or are asked to create an account while completing your shopping, be sure to use a solid and unique password. Try to avoid using the same password for every site, making you more vulnerable to hackers. Some websites will now let you check out as a guest instead of signing up. If you don’t plan on shopping with them too often, this might be the better option.
- Look for the padlock.
When you log into legitimate and safe online stores, you’ll notice a little padlock icon in the address bar. You might have already seen this several times but never realized what it was. This is an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, which means the site is secure. Alternatively, if you can’t see the padlock but the website starts with HTTPS://, this also means the site is secure. Some browsers like Google Chrome will automatically alert you when a site does not have an SSL, and if it doesn’t, it’s usually best to avoid shopping there.
- Use your credit card over a debit card.
It’s a good idea to use your credit card instead of your debit card when purchasing online. Particularly if you have a credit card with a relatively low spend limit. This means that your details become compromised; there is only so much damage a hacker can do before the bank/you are alerted. Not only this, but credit cards typically offer more protection and chances to get your money back should the retailer go bust or your goods not arrive.
- Don’t shop over public Wi-FI.
Another important way to stay safe when shopping online is to avoid over-public Wi-Fi connections. For example, you might be sitting in your favorite cafe or ordering an item while out and about. Still, if you’re using a public connection, your information is vulnerable to clever criminals who can intercept the connection and steal your data. As such, it’s best to use your private connection at home or if you are shopping when you’re out, use your mobile data instead.
- Sign out of your accounts
Many retailers will ask you to make an account with them, and this can be helpful if you plan to shop with them on multiple occasions. That said, it’s always a good idea to sign out of your account when you’ve finished shopping. Mainly if you’ve been using someone else’s device or a public computer, in these cases, it’s also best to clear the cache and get rid of any cookies.
Doing this will reduce the risk of a hacker gaining access to your account and, as a result, your personal and financial information. So remember to hit the log out button when you’re done shopping.
- Check out the returns policies.
One final way to protect yourself when online shopping is to always look at the returns policies. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, you want to know that you can send the goods back (and how long you have to do it) if they aren’t suitable or faulty. Secondly, a company that offers no returns policy or information for sending goods back could be a scam.