Stay safe when shopping online

Today, there are countless online shopping opportunities – most of which are legitimate. But with online fraud on the rise, it’s important to follow some simple rules to give yourself the best chance of having a secure online shopping experience.

Today, there are countless online shopping opportunities – most of which are legitimate. But with online fraud on the rise, it’s important to follow some simple rules to give yourself the best chance of having a secure online shopping experience.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
Last Updated
31 MARCH 2022
5 min read
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Why do I need to be careful when I shop online?

Unfortunately, there are criminals out there who target online shoppers. It’s estimated that there were 5.1 million fraud offences between September 2020 and 2021 in England and Wales, a rise of 27% on the year before. Some of this is down to fraudsters taking advantage of increased online shopping. 

When you shop online, you’ll want to be sure that the goods you’ve paid for are going to turn up, that they’ll be as described and that your details won’t be compromised. Frauds to look out for include fake websites, goods that aren’t as advertised and fraudsters trying to steal your details.

Tips for protecting yourself online

Here are some tips for staying safe and secure online: 

  • Install up-to-date security protection software (e.g. anti-virus, firewall, anti-malware, anti-spam etc) on your computer, tablet and mobile phone.
  • Use public WiFi smartly. Don’t log on to sites that need your password – such as your bank, social network or credit card provider.
  • Choose a strong password that no one will be able to work out or guess for your private WiFi network.
  • If you’re using your mobile, always make sure you lock your phone after using it to shop.
  • Use different passwords for all your accounts – they should contain a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Only download material from sources you know and trust and do not share your credit card details unless it’s necessary
  • Make sure your WiFi network at home is encrypted with a password that isn’t easy to guess and that you change regularly. Change the default settings on your home internet router or hub, as some of these could allow hackers to get access.
  • Make sure your PC, laptop, tablet and mobile phone have the most up-to-date operating system or apps installed.
  • Pay attention to notifications from your card provider about planned downtime and maintenance windows. Fraudsters could masquerade as IT support technicians ‘just checking a few details’ after or during such upgrades.
  • Use shopping websites with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. Look at the site’s URL – it should start with “https://” and will typically have a lock icon displayed somewhere in the browser. 

How can I avoid email scams?

Fraudsters can target victims by email with scams that install spyware on your computer or that encourage you to click through to fake websites. To protect yourself:

  • Don’t click open attachments unless you’re certain they come from a trustworthy source
  • If you’re asked to follow a link, go to the site directly rather than clicking on the link.
  • Never respond to emails from unknown sources.
  • Be aware of phishing emails. This is when a direct mail is sent to you by fraudsters who are trying to access your personal information. These emails often look like those sent by reputable businesses.  Never reply to any email asking for your password or PIN

Did you know?

There’s a higher risk of being targeted by criminals in the run-up to special occasions like Mother’s Day, Black Friday and Christmas. While it’s always wise to be cyber-aware, you should be extra-vigilant during periods when online shopping is at its peak.

How can I stay safe on social media?

When it comes to social media, be very careful not to overshare your personal data such as your birthday or home address. Before you post something on social media, pause and think carefully about whether the information is better left as private.

Using credit checks to help spot identity theft

Reviewing your credit report regularly – at least once a year or more – can help you see if someone has stolen your identity. You should be able to see any products listed that you might not have applied for. And you might spot unusual activity if, say, your credit score dips unexpectedly. To access your credit report, visit Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.

Can using a credit card protect me when I shop online?

If you pay for goods or services with a credit card – for something that costs between £100 and £30,000 – your purchase could be covered under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if:

  • Your items don’t get to you
  • You buy something faulty or damaged and a refund or replacement isn’t available
  • A firm goes into administration before providing what you’ve paid for.

However, you won’t be covered automatically. It depends on your individual circumstances and the terms and conditions of your credit card provider.

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Frequently asked qestions

What is 2-step verification, and do I need it?

2-step verification (2-SV) is another layer of security that ‘double-checks’ you are the person you’re claiming to be when using online services. It makes it harder for criminals to access your online accounts, even if they’ve managed to get hold of your password. The most common form of 2-SV is a one-off code that’s sent to your phone by text message.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) strongly recommends using 2-SV for logging into important online accounts, especially banking. Many banks and building societies already have 2-SV systems in place for their online customers. Not all services automatically switch on 2-SV, but in most cases, you can switch it on yourself via the security settings for your social media, email and shopping accounts.

Is it safe to use an online payment platform?

Yes, in fact online payment services such as Google Pay, Apple Pay and PayPal can be more secure than using your credit or debit card directly for online purchases. The NCSC recommends using them, as it means the retailer won’t see your card payment details. 

Just be aware that you might not be protected by Section 75 if you pay via a third-party platform. However, Google Pay, Apple Pay and PayPal provide their own dispute resolution processes if anything should go wrong with your purchase. Check their terms and conditions before you sign up to see what protection they offer. 

What should I do if I suspect an email, text or website is ‘dodgy’?

If you suspect that an email, text or website isn’t genuine – even if you just have a feeling that something isn’t right – you can report it to the following authorities:

I think I’ve been scammed, what should I do?

If you think your credit or debit card has been used fraudulently, contact your bank asap so they can block the card. 

You’ll also need to report fraud or cybercrime to the following authorities depending on where you live:

  • England, Wales or Northern Ireland – report it online to Action Fraud or by calling 0300 123 2040
  • Scotland – report it to Police Scotland by calling 101.

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