5 Top Ways to Shop Online Safely

Published: 18 July 2011 By Julian Stone Leave a Comment

These days, most of us buy online to take advantage of better prices and greater choice – but how do you keep safe and avoid online fraud? We share our top five tips.

Online shoppingWith so much choice and so many cheap deals available on the web, it’s little wonder that it’s becoming second nature for us to shop online.

There are plenty of other advantages too. When you shop online, you can find the goods and services you need without leaving your home – and the things you buy get delivered directly to your door.

Online shopping is also a godsend for those of use who leave gift buying to the last minute. If you remember it’s your uncle’s birthday with two days to spare – and he lives in Australia – all you have to do is log on to an Australian online store and choose him a gift. He’ll get it in good time, and he’ll be none the wiser that you nearly forgot.

But with all the advantages, there is a flip side – online fraud. There are plenty of people out there who would love to get their hands on your credit card details, or sell you goods or services that don’t exist.

And because some of them are very good at looking like legitimate traders, the first you may know about it is when your bank account has been plundered by someone who has gone on a spending spree with your money.

With care, though, you can avoid most dangers when you shop online – and minimise the damage if anything does go wrong.

That’s why, to help you stay protected, we’ve put together our top 5 ways to make sure you shop online safely.

1. Use trusted sites

Now that some online shops have been on the web for years, we all know about plenty of trusted brands – Amazon, Apple’s iTunes, LOVEFiLM, the major supermarkets, high street retailers and others.

If you shop with these retailers, you know that you’re dealing with a company you can trust. But what about smaller retailers selling niche goods? How can you be sure you’re safe to use them?

One useful step is to take a look at www.shopsafe.co.uk, which lists over 4,000 UK online retailers and rates them for security. You can also keep an eye out for the Internet Shopping is Safe (ISIS) logo, which gives retailers accreditation for data protection and security.

Lastly, if you’re worried about a site, get Googling. If a retailer hasn’t delivered on its promises in the past, you can be sure that people will be talking about it online. And that doesn’t just go for fraud – it goes for poor service, such as that provided by Camerabox to one of our team.

2. Keep your browser updated

It may seem obvious, but always keep your web browser up to date. New browsers are better at spotting fake sites and alerting you to any potential problems.

Downloading a browser only takes a few minutes or even seconds – and it could make the difference between keeping your safe or seeing you defrauded when you try to shop on certain sites.

3. Check the padlock or site identity button

When you buy online, a website should provide you with a secure connection that encrypts your sensitive data – such as credit card and personal details.

There are a number of signs you should look for to check that your connection is secure.

First look at the address (URL) in your browser. At the beginning it should read ‘https’ as in ‘https://www.amazon.co.uk’. If you are making a transaction and it only reads ‘http’, stop immediately.

Secondly, look for the padlock symbol on your browser – this also indicates a secure connection. However, note that the most recent version of Firefox uses a site identity button instead – it’s to the left of the space where you type in the URL. Press this and it will give you security details about the site you are on.

4. Consider Paypal

Paypal is an online payments service that provides a safe alternative to credit and debit cards.

Many retailers offer Paypal as a payment option, and all you have to do is enter your details when you are redirected to the Paypal site.

However, you need to be very careful that you are only directed to Paypal’s site and not a ‘phishing’ site that looks like it – otherwise you could lose your details to fraud.

Used carefully, Paypal is very safe and secure, but some retailers prefer not to offer it because of the charges it makes for transactions.

5. Use a prepaid credit card

One of the best ways to keep safe when you shop online is to use a prepaid credit card, like those available from Escape and Virgin.

A prepaid card works in exactly the same way as a credit card – it’s accepted just like VISA and Mastercard – but you can only spend the balance you’ve loaded onto it. That means there’s a limit to what you can lose if the card gets into the wrong hands.

Just as good, prepaid credit cards don’t have your personal details attached to them, which makes them ideal for cautious online shoppers.

Staying safe as you shop online is about taking care about where you shop and thinking carefully about how you pay. But there’s one tip that beats them all – choose a strong password every time you register and never use it for more than one site.

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