10 ways you can protect yourself from fraud when online shopping

Work is carried out at Amazon’s new fulfilment centre. As shoppers approach the peak season for ordering online, following a virtual Black Friday in the UK this year, here are some tips to evade potential fraud this Cyber Monday. Photo: Reuters/Russell Cheyne As shoppers approach the peak season for ordering […]

Work is carried out at Amazon's new fulfilment centre after it was opened by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond in Dunfermline, Scotland, November 15, 2011.The warehouse covers more than one million square feet (93,000 square metres), about the size of 14 soccer pitches, and is Amazon?s biggest in the United Kingdom. It will create 750 permanent jobs, along with a further 1,500 temporary jobs during peak periods.  REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Work is carried out at Amazon’s new fulfilment centre. As shoppers approach the peak season for ordering online, following a virtual Black Friday in the UK this year, here are some tips to evade potential fraud this Cyber Monday. Photo: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

As shoppers approach the peak season for ordering online, following a virtual Black Friday in the UK this year, here are some tips to evade potential fraud this Cyber Monday.

Christmas amid COVID-19 lockdowns means a boom in online shopping has never been more prevalent. Here are consumer website Which?’s top tops for protecting yourself online.

1. Know who you’re buying from

Stick with the big names when buying online if you possibly can. Big brands are much safer for you to shop from a vendor you’ve never heard of.

If something you want to buy is only available from a business you don’t know, do some research. Look for reviews of the seller to see what experience other people have had with them. See how long the website has been registered by going to whois.icann.org and typing in the website URL.

This will tell you who owns the domain name and when it was first registered, as well as giving you contact details for the website managers. A domain that was only bought very recently suggests that the business is, at best, very new.

2. Use a separate email address for online shopping

It’s worth having a separate email address for setting up and managing online accounts.

Not only does that keep your personal or work inbox clear of notifications and potential spam, but it also means you keep important information such as work documents and family emails separate from newsletters and emails telling you that a delivery is on its way.

Also, should the email address associated with your online shopping accounts be compromised, then your sensitive data remains safe in your private inbox.

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3. Check that the website is secure

You’ll see a lot of advice to only use a website that displays a padlock in the address bar, and that remains advisable.

However, the padlock only tells you that the website is encrypted and that it’s securely sending your details, such as your password and card details from your device, to its servers. It doesn’t tell you anything about the authenticity or trustworthiness of the people behind the website.

4. Too much information

Be careful about how much information you give away when you create an account with an online retailer.

Look out for the asterisk (*) on web forms that tell you when you must fill in that field: obviously a website needs your name, address, email address and payment details, but many sites also try to collect additional information, such as your clothing size or an additional phone number.

It helps retailers understand their customers, but there’s no need to give that information if you don’t want to.

5. Be careful on a mobile device

Be particularly careful with checking the URL of a website on a mobile device. Mobile versions of browsers don’t always display the full web address in the address bar.

Download a retailer’s app from your phone’s relevant store – Apple’s App Store or Google Play if you’re using Android – rather than go to a mobile website, where possible, to protect yourself from the risk of going to a fake shopping site.

GUTTENBERG, NJ - NOVEMBER 27: In this photo illustration,Best Buy advertise Cyber Monday sales on it's company websites on November 27, 2017 in Guttenberg, New Jersey. Americans are expected to spend $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday, up 16 percent from last year, (Photo by Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images)
Be particularly careful with checking the URL of a website on a mobile device. Mobile versions of browsers don’t always display the full web address in the address bar. Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images

6. Make sure software is up to date

You are much more at risk from hackers if your software isn’t up to date, says Which?. The latest versions of software bring security updates to fix potential loopholes that hackers use to get into your device.

Before you embark on your online shopping spree, make sure you’ve updated your operating system (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows), your antivirus software and your browser, or the app you’re planning to use.

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7. Use a credit card where possible

It’s a good idea to use a credit card rather than a debit card when you’re shopping online, and ideally use one with a low credit limit so that if the details of your card are compromised, the damage that can be done by a high-spending thief before you can block the card is limited.

Using a credit card gives you more protection if a retailer goes bust, the goods don’t arrive or they’re faulty.

8. Buying on marketplaces

If you do want to use a small or independent seller, stick to buying via established marketplaces. Notonthehighstreet.com showcases small businesses, while Etsy.com is a good place to look for handcrafted gifts or vintage items. Amazon hosts thousands of small shops, and of course, there’s always eBay.

Most importantly, all of these established sites offer secure payment services and dispute resolution processes that protect both the retailer and the buyer.

9. Sign out when you’re finished

If you use a computer or mobile device that’s not your own, make sure you sign out when you’ve finished shopping and clear your cookies so that someone using it after you won’t find themselves signed in to your account – and possibly with access to your payment details.

10. If it sounds too good to be true…

Be wary of special offers arriving by email or SMS that contain links that you are encouraged to click on. They could be phishing attempts, designed to send you to a fake website to steal your login details.

We all want to save money where possible, and it’s tempting to click through from a link offering a fantastic price on something. But the old adage ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ is particularly important to remember at this time of year.

If you fall foul of fraudsters and you’ve been the victim of a scam, you can report it to Action Fraud via actionfraud.police.uk.

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