Shopping online may be very quick and convenient, but you need to remain extremely vigilant when making purchases and payments, or you could end up falling victim to fraud.
Criminals are getting increasingly sophisticated in the methods they use to part people from their cash. Tricks include setting up fake ‘shadow’ websites which are copies of those of the major retailers, and ‘phishing’ scams to steal people’s bank and credit card details.
So how can you make sure you stay safe when shopping – and paying for your shopping – online?
Check the site is secure
First off, before entering any of your personal details, you should ensure that the site is secure.
Double check that the website URL starts ‘https’ rather than ‘http’; the ‘s’ stands for secure and indicates you’re shopping on a safe site.
Also look for the gold padlock icon in the browser window frame – and not on the page itself.
In addition, you should ensure you have the latest anti-virus or malware programmes. You should also keep software updated.
Do your own research
If you’re worried about a site, check it lists a physical address and phone contact details.
If you’re still not sure if it is legitimate, do your research. Internet forums are brimming with people sharing their stories about poor service and goods that did not appear.
Think carefully about your method of payment
Even if a site is secure, you should still proceed with care.
Remember that paying by credit card offers greater fraud protection than other methods.
If a site directs you to a third-party payment service, such as WorldPay, make sure that site is a genuine, secure site before making a payment.
Make use of PayPal when buying from a small online trader
If you’re buying from an individual, the alarm bells should ring if the seller insists on a money transfer using Western Union or similar.
This means the funds aren’t ‘trackable’, so is potentially a scam.
Equally, when buying from a stranger, you should never transfer money directly into their bank account as you may never see the goods or the cash again.
Instead, you should use a secure payment site, such as PayPal.
Use PayPal when buying goods from ebay
The same applies when buying items from an auction site, such as ebay. You should always use the PayPal system, as opposed to making a cash transfer.
By transacting through ebay and PayPal, you have an element of protection. If you deal outside the site, ebay will not be responsible and you could be left out of pocket.
Read our guide to selling on ebay
How does PayPal work?
PayPal is a quick and secure digital payment method which involves money being transferred between two electronic accounts.
It gives customers an easier, safer and faster way to pay online without them having to share any of their financial information.
PayPal has more than 20 million active users in the UK.
Tips on how to use PayPal
Signing up to PayPal is easy and free, just visit the PayPal website and follow the simple step-by-step instructions.
Once you get to the checkout, you do not have to enter your card or bank details onto a website. Just log-in to PayPal via the seller’s site and click to make your payment.
This adds a layer of security and means you can shop on the likes of ebay and Amazon far more quickly.
Also note that lots of banks now use Verified by Visa when you pay with a Visa card, or SecureCode if you are paying with a MasterCard. This offers an extra level of security.
Log out properly
Once you’ve finished shopping, you need to log out from the websites you have been making purchases from.
Closing the window is not sufficient, and could enable someone to access your account and personal details.
Similarly, you should also password-lock your phone and tablet with a passcode.
Tips to stay safe when shopping online
* If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. You need to keep your wits about you.
* Watch out for fake trustmark logos on e-commerce sites.
* Only download shopping apps from reliable sources such as Google Play and the App store. Read user reviews and verify the developer is trusted.
* Check credit cards and bank statements – always make sure the correct amount has been debited from your account after shopping, and that no fraud has taken place as a result of the transaction.
* Check the seller – trust your instincts when it comes to who you’re buying from. If there are no reviews and you haven’t heard of a seller before, it’s best to do some research around them before making a purchase.
* Treat all uninvited emails with caution. Never to go a website from a link in an email. Instead, access internet banking and shopping sites by typing the address directly into your browser and checking the spelling carefully.
How safe are direct debits?
If you do fall victim to fraud, contact your bank right away. They will stop your cards and account, and may be able to refund the money taken from your account.
You should also report the fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or go to Actionfraud.police.uk
Other payment systems
Apple Pay is a contactless payment system allows shoppers to pay online with a smartphone or tablet computer.
Pay by Bank
Pay by Bank is a Mastercard system designed for smartphone users making online purchases. Once you get to the checkout, you will see a “Pay by Bank” logo, alongside the option to pay by card or PayPal.
Google Pay is a digital wallet that allows you to make purchases in-app purchases or use their smartphone or even smartwatch to make payments in shops.
Online banking: don’t pay the wrong person by accident
* Always double check the sort code and account number when sending a payment – and ask the recipient to confirm their details are correct.
* If you’re sending money to someone you haven’t made a transfer to for a while, make sure they still use the same account.
* Send a test. For extra reassurance, you could send a low-value test payment and check the funds are received successfully.
Use our free Equity Release calculator.