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How to shop safely online

Expert Reviews Staff
18 Dec 2015
Shop safely online
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Want to make the most of the sales? Make sure you don't get ripped off with our guide to staying safe online

Thanks to the internet, you can take advantage of the best deals and get some of the best savings both now and in the New Year sales. Yet, as online crime soars, it’s more important than ever to know how to safely shop online and avoid the (many) internet dangers. To find out how, Expert Reviews has teamed up with BullGuard to bring you these essential tips for staying safe online.

1. Research the retailer

While scouring the web for the latest deals, it is easy to land in unfamiliar territory but highly recommended that you only buy products from reputable sources. Every decent retailer has an online shop, from internet-only stores such as Asos and Amazon to the web pages of Argos, Tesco and Waterstones. However, if you don’t know who the retailer is and question whether it is credible, think twice before imparting any sensitive details. To gauge a store’s legitimacy, you can check the contact page and terms and conditions for a UK address and search for user reviews on websites such as TrustPilot. You can also scan social media to see if the shop is active and engaged with customers. If in doubt, a simple Google search can be your best friend. Finally, be aware of easy-to-spot mistakes in grammar or URL addresses as well as cheap web design – all of these are key signs the website should be avoided.

2. Check for encryption

Just like you shield personal data from snooping in the real world, it is vital to protect it online. This data, including credit card numbers, addresses and other personally identifiable information (PII), should only be given to a website that is secure. There are a number of ways to tell whether a site has strong security in place. First, always look for the padlock symbol, usually beside the URL bar, which can be clicked to ensure the website has a valid and trusted certificate. Second, check if the website contains the letters Https in the URL, which is an indication of strong encryption used by businesses that process sensitive data. Never buy anything from a website that doesn’t use these security precautions.

Chrome Padlock encryption

3. Secure your devices

With cyber criminals becoming increasingly sophisticated it’s important to make sure your devices have the latest security updates installed. Often these updates patch software vulnerabilities and security flaws. If a device or your computer has weak security it won’t matter how well a retailer’s website is protected, you will be at risk online. Additionally, while surfing the web strong anti-virus and malware protection software is a necessity, for example BullGuard Internet Security, scans systems for flaws and stops unwanted applications from hijacking your computer. If you are shopping for deals on a mobile device, it is strongly advised to only use branded applications that are downloaded directly from official sources such as the Apple App Store or Google Play.

4. Beware of public Wi-Fi

While it’s undoubtedly convenient to shop online in a coffee shop, restaurant or airport it’s inherently insecure, as you don't have control over the network and it's possible that someone is snooping and stealing your data. Instead, it is preferable to browse on the public internet and save the purchase until you are back on a safe home network. However, if you do spot a deal that simply has to be picked up right now you might be better off using your smartphone’s mobile data network.

5. Be aware of common scams

As traditional crime and fraud becomes increasingly common online it is important to be aware of scams such as email phishing attempts, fake coupon deals and malvertising. Some of these take advantage of sophisticated social engineering so it is best to always be vigilant when shopping online. During busy periods like Christmas and the New Year sales, criminals step up their attempts to catch unwitting internet users off guard. Because of this, it’s crucial that you never open unsolicited email or click on suspicious links. Also, ignore any online form that asks for bank details (no banking system should ever request your pin number, for example) and double check any discounted product ads that appear too good to be true – in all likelihood they will be.

6. Embrace the credit card

Using a credit card means greater financial protection when buying goods online. Thanks to the Consumer Credit Act these cards offer far more insurance than debit cards. Schemes like ‘Verified by VISA’ and the MasterCard ‘Secure Code’ add a second layer of protection to online purchases which can help to fend off unwanted access to your bank account. Furthermore, online payment processors, such as PayPal, offer strong buyer protection and in most cases you will get a full refund against dodgy transactions. Additionally, these internet-based payment services store your credit card information on a secure server, which saves you from revealing your details during every new purchase online.

7. Use strong passwords

The traditional password is often overlooked when it comes to setting up a new account with a retailer or online store. However, the password provides the basic foundation of security for your account. It is extremely important that a password is long, strong and unique to you. Do not re-use the same password on multiple accounts and stay away from easy-to-guess ideas like date of birth or pet names which, thanks to social media, are often easy to find online. Similarly, many websites offer two-factor authentication, which can provide an extra layer of safety by adding a phone, text or email confirmation in order to access to your account. This list of sites that use two-factor authentication is invaluable.

8. Regularly check bank statements

In the rush of the sales it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending, yet keeping an eye on online bank statements is key to checking for suspicious activity and fraud. Setting up online banking is now quick and easy and offers a secure method to stay on top of outgoing finances, even while on the move. It’s easy to get caught up in busy sales shopping, but with this advice, at least, you won’t get caught out.

This is an independent guide from the Expert Reviews editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site but paid for by BullGuard.

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