New to shopping online? It’s safer and easier than ever to buy the things you want or need from your favourite stores on the web. However, there are still a few things you should be keeping in mind. How do you know if you’re dealing with a legitimate seller? How can you best protect your money?
Take a look at our top tips for the full lowdown on how to stay safe when shopping online. Web shopping is easy, convenient and fun. It’s safe, too, providing you keep vigilant!
1. Check The Web Address for a ‘Lock’
If you’ve already spent some time shopping around online, you’ve likely come across the ‘lock’ symbol. This indicates that a site is secure to use, as it’s fully encrypted. A ‘padlocked’ site has SSL, or secure sockets layer protection. What’s more, a web address starting in HTTPS, not HTTP, will be encrypted.
Shopping at sites without HTTPS or SSL technology means your money and payment information are at risk of being stolen by hackers or people snooping in. Take care and always read the web address in your browser.
2. Never Browse, or Pay, Unless You’re Protected
Browsing the web without antivirus or firewall protection? Then you’re putting your device, as well as your data, at risk. A simple firewall and antivirus system, providing it is fully updated, will offer you a lot of protection against simple and complex threats alike.
A good firewall system will alert you when threats pop up. Otherwise, you could be sharing your payment details with third parties who will be more than happy to steal your information, as well as your money. Keep updated!
3. Shop From Home – Never in Public
It’s tempting to make use of public Wi-Fi; however, it can be a haven for would-be hackers. In some cases, thieves will set up false versions of sites so that they can intercept financial and security information. You could be logging into a fake version of a website without even realising it!
For that reason, always make sure to shop from home if you can, or through a private VPN. A VPN is an encrypted connection which is private to you. We’d also advise you to take care shopping through 3G and 4G, too.
4. Re-check Your Order
Don’t be too willing to charge into finalising your order so quickly. If it’s your first time buying online, you’re going to want to make sure all the details in front of you are present and correct. Make sure that you are using the right card, for example, and that the total presented is how much you intend to pay.
It’s all too commonplace for people to end up paying too much for products because they don’t pay attention to add-ons when it comes to bills and online statements. Just be careful – and make sure you give everything the once and twice-over.
5. Stick With What You Know
Eventually, you can branch out and start looking at smaller, independent websites for shopping – but to start with, make sure to stick with what’s familiar to you. This could be a well-known and well-trusted brand, such as Amazon. The reason why this is important when it comes to security is that big brands such as Amazon are reputable, and aren’t likely to fall prey to anything sinister.
Do make sure you only ever shop with brands you are comfortable with. There is little reason risking your money on a brand or site you’ve never heard of! When you get more confident with your cash, you can then start thinking about branching out a little.
6. Read User Reviews
If you do wish to use a site or store you’re unfamiliar with, always trust what verified users have to say. Look up published reviews for sites and brands to get the full lowdown on whether or not you should trust a brand. Even if things only look a little bit shaky, be sure to trust your gut. Don’t march into spending anything unless you are completely sure that your finances and data are safe.
This is where hackers and scam sites fall down – as reputable sites will usually have scores of positive reviews readily available for you to read up on. Otherwise, if you’re still unsure, make sure you exercise the point above and stick with sites and stores you’re familiar with.
7. Strengthen Your Passwords
Your password is your link to an online store, and it is also the only thing that stands between you and access to your money. If you make your passwords too easy to guess, hackers are going to leap right in and take advantage. With that in mind, you should be ready to improve the passwords you use. Some websites and stores will help you to do this, by grading your passwords when you create them.
A strong password is one which makes use of unintelligible words and strings of characters. It’s recommended that you use a mix of symbols, characters, numbers, and varying cases. Some browsers, too, will help you to create strong passwords which are difficult to crack. Just don’t go about using passwords which include pets’ or loved ones’ names!
8. Change Passwords Often
You may think that once you have a password that’s strong enough, you’re safe and secure. Not necessarily. Good security practice will be to ensure that you regularly change your password from time to time. We have all seen the horror stories where even the biggest websites fall prey to hackers stealing passwords – and we don’t often find out about it until long after the event.
Therefore, you should be ready to change your password regularly. How regularly is up to you, but once a month should give you enough protection against potential leaks and the like.
9. Trust Your Head
Found a deal that seems too good to be true? You know how the old saying goes – it probably is. Therefore, make sure to check out a site and its deals before you go any further. Some sites offer incredible deals with minimal shipping, which is all well and good, but you could stand to lose out if you don’t read the fine print.
Read everything a site has to offer in terms of conditions of sale and more besides. This may be time-consuming, but if you’re really not sure about a deal you’ve found, you should be ready to take steps to safeguard yourself and your money.
10. Avoid Clicking Through on Email
Phishing is a type of scam where hackers will create a facsimile or copy of a site which looks legitimate and will harvest passwords, financial information and more. We’ve covered this a little earlier on, but do make sure to take particular care when shopping off the back of email deals. Many scammers make use of fake emails to trick people into clicking links that lead to unexpected sites.
The best idea, in any case, is to cross-reference a deal you’ve received via email with the site you normally use. If there’s no sign of that deal appearing on the storefront, then you may well be dealing with a faker. It pays to be careful, especially when people are asking you to confidently click on strange links!
11. Sign Out When You’re Finished
If you’re the only person likely to use your computer or device, then this point shouldn’t really make much of a difference to you. However, when using shared devices, or when using a computer to shop in a public place, you should always make sure you fully sign out before you quit. Otherwise, people will be able to intercept your data and your ongoing shopping. That’s going to put your data, your money and your privacy at risk.
If you’re using a private mobile or tablet, you shouldn’t need to worry too much, but it’s best to exercise caution over who has access to your device. A safer way to shop, too, may be via app – if a store has one available!
12. Delete Your Cookies
This ties closely in with the above point. By now, we should all know what cookies are – but if not, don’t worry. A site will ask to install cookies on your device so that you can preserve your shopping preferences for future shopping. However, you have complete control over these elements. You should delete them from your web browser after each time you shop if you’re on a shared device. Otherwise, again, other people are going to have access to the data you’ve shared.
Cookies can do more than just save shopping behaviour, however, and on a similar note, do make sure to read cookie terms before you agree to them. Each site, providing it is falling in line with legal GDPR standards, should now ask you if you consent to cookie storage. If you decline, you can still use the site. Don’t feel pressurised!
13. Look Up Locale
The internet has really made the world a lot smaller. We can now shop online and buy products from countries as far-flung as Asia and Australia. However, you’re going to need to be careful if you are buying in from overseas. This isn’t to say that foreign sites shouldn’t be trusted – far from it – but it’s crucial that you keep aware of any potential taxes or fees you may be subject to when importing.
Do also make sure you won’t be expected to pay extortionate shipping costs. When buying from overseas, you may be expected to pay a high price for getting goods shipped over. In many cases, it will likely be safer and more straightforward for you to stick to UK stores wherever possible.
14. Be Ready to Complain
Sadly, there may be very rare cases where you find yourself subject to security problems at trusted or bigger sites. If you find yourself a victim of theft or service which could lead to your data or money being stolen, you have every right to follow up on a complaint, and to go public with your grievances if you want to. Before heading to social media, however, do attempt to resolve issues with staff through email, phone or chat channels.
If you are in the right, you may be able to escalate your complaints further if you receive no joy from the seller or store. A relevant ombudsman service, who mediates between customers and businesses, may be able to take on your case if enough time has elapsed. This will normally be a couple of months.
15. Check the Returns Policies
Before you buy anything online, always make sure to read up on your rights. If you don’t, you could be left in a sticky situation at a later date. When buying physical products or items from a seller, for example you should always read the returns policy. How far are your rights protected? What can you do if the product you receive isn’t as advertised?
If a site or store isn’t making these sorts of details obvious to you, it’s time to get a little suspicious. We’d advise you only ever trade with reputable online sites who have clear returns and purchase policies outlined upfront for you to see before you buy. It’s crucial you know what you’re getting into; otherwise you may be left with no rights whatsoever when all is said and done.
16. Keep An Eye on Your Bank
We all know that it’s never been easier to keep a close eye on our bank statements. Whether you bank online or over the phone, there’s no longer an excuse to leave checking your finances until your monthly statement comes through. If you’re worried about payments you may be making through an online store, be ready to run through your bank and/or card payments with a fine toothcomb.
If you do this as you go along, you’ll be able to spot any irregularities in payments, too. While this may seem a little excessive to some people, mistakes can be made. Just make sure you have complete control and jurisdiction over what’s going in and out of your bank, or what’s leaving your cards. The moment you spot anything fishy, you can call up your bank or issuer and put a stop to such things.
17. Stick to Cards if You Can
Ultimately, the safest way to pay will be via credit or debit card. These come with certain protections which online payment services, such as e-wallets, may not do. PayPal has a certain number of protections – to an extent – but on the whole, a card is going to be your best option in securely paying your way online.
However, newer options which have been popping up, such as Android Pay and Apple Pay, offer quite a bit of security and protection. For our money, we would encourage you to stick to cards and banks – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give things a bit of a review before you get started.
18. Keep Your Details to a Minimum
It pays to be smart about the details an online retailer is actually going to need. To process a card payment, a retailer will need to know all your card’s details – which is a given – but if you’re asked for other sensitive details, unless it is through a password screen or unless you have control over the situation, don’t be so keen to give everything upfront and away.
For example, stores shouldn’t ever ask for your passwords and security answers through email. They shouldn’t normally ask you for anything sensitive on-site, either, unless you have prompted them to do so. Be smart!
19. Trust Your Gut
This is a good overall tip/trick which applies to most things! If there is any doubt in play as to whether or not the site you are dealing with is legitimate, make sure you stop immediately. Providing you have carried out all the relevant research, are using secure payment methods, and are making sure to browse and buy while fully protected by antivirus and firewall services, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Most scams are very easy to spot. The ones which aren’t are those you need to worry about the most.
However, sites which seem careless about their fakery are still worth keeping an eye out for. These sites and scammers depend on people who are complacent about shopping securely. If this sounds like you, then you are likely to be easy prey for any would-be hackers or thieves who are willing to take you for everything you’ve got.
You shouldn’t ever be afraid of shopping online! More and more people are doing it, and it’s never been more secure or easier to get into. However, if buying online somewhere doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to get out of there as soon as you can. Sticking around could mean you lose a lot of money in the bargain!