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Shopping online? Follow our seven steps to keep safe

Online shopping offers choice and convenience, but it's also a golden opportunity for scammers.

miniature boxes next to a laptop and credit cardMore than a quarter of all retail sales are now made online and with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many of us to stay at home, this figure is set to continue rising higher and higher.

Shopping online means millions of products and retailers at our fingertips and a lot of bargains too, all without having to leave the comfort of our armchairs. Unfortunately, online shopping provides a number of easy ways for scammers to steal our hard-earned cash. Whether it’s selling counterfeit goods, adverts for products which don’t exist and mysteriously disappear once you’ve paid for them or payment systems which are engineered to steal your card details – shopping online is a minefield of risks but the good news is that we’re here to help keep you and your money safe.

Follow our seven steps to shopping online safely:

ONE:  Ensure any website you visit is secure

  • Look for the padlock symbol at the start of the web address bar
  • Check the web address begins ‘httpS’
  • Ensure the website has a valid security certificate – and if your computer, smartphone or tablet warns you the site might not be secure, listen to the advice and leave it immediately.
  • Check your antivirus software is up to date so that your device is protected.



TWO: Use strong passwords

  • If you’re registering for an online account, make sure to use a strong password made up of numbers, letters and characters. Try not to use words or birthdays.
  • Use a password manager – find out more about these at the National Cyber Security Centre
  • Try to use different passwords across different websites, accounts and payment providers – don’t make it easy for anyone to get into your account.
  • Check if your account details have ever been subject to a data breach here https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and if so, make sure to change your passwords on any accounts which have been breached.

THREE: Use legitimate retailers

  • If you’re purchasing expensive items, check the manufacturer’s website for a list of authorised distributors or sellers. Also check the recommended retail price for the item and if you see it advertised for much less, this should raise alarm bells as it’s likely the item may be counterfeit.
  • Check the website for reviews on sites such as reviewcentre or Trustpilot
  • Read the website content – does it have a high number of spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Check the website is secure by following the advice in bullet point one above.

FOUR: Pay with a credit card or via a secure payment provider

  • Most banks will required two factor authentication (2FA) to help keep your details secure. If you are given this option by your bank, ensure you set it up as it means an extra layer of security to make sure you are who you say you are when using your card or logging into your online or app banking.
  • Use a credit card  as most major credit card providers insure online purchases. Some other payment methods do provide good consumer protection, but they aren’t obliged to provide the same protection as a credit card provider. Check their Terms and Conditions for exact details.
  • Paying using a trusted payment provider, like Paypal, means you don’t actually have to provide your card details to the retailer so can offer extra security.

FIVE: Be vigilant for ‘spoof’ or fake websites

  • Scammers are very talented at making websites that mimic legitimate retailers or organisations.
  • Check the web address – does it look odd or have the company’s name spelt differently?
  • Does the site appear differently to how it does normally?
  • If the site starts asking you to input details that it doesn’t usually require, leave it immediately.

SIX: Know your rights 

  • Before purchasing, check the return policy. If the seller doesn’t have one, you should be suspicious. Knowing the policy will help you if the item isn’t delivered or arrives broken, even if the seller isn’t trying to scam you.
  • Make sure you are aware of your rights as a consumer so you have all the information before embarking on a purchase.
  • Check how long will delivery take and where the item is being sent from? A UK or Europe-based seller should be able to deliver within a week, if the item is in stock.

SEVEN: Trust your instincts

  • If something looks too good to be true, then unfortunately that is very likely to be the case and you should exercise extreme caution.
  • Scammer capitalise on our desire to find a bargain so make sure they don’t draw you in with their false promises.
  • If something doesn’t look or feel right, then trust your instincts and stay well away from it.
  • Finally, if you suspect you have been scammed then contact your bank or card provider immediately and report it to North Yorkshire Police on 101.