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Is it safe to shop online?
Do you feel safe shopping online?
Is shopping online really safe? With all the headlines about internet fraud you can understand why some people are reticent about shopping online. Internet shopping, though, is fast becoming the way to shop. In fact, using the internet for everything is becoming so prolific that it is difficult to see how people survive without a PC and an internet connection anymore. Want to claim benefits? Go online. Want to make a complaint? Go online. Want help with a problem? Go online. So what is the truth? Is it safe to shop online, or are you better off getting in your car and going to the shops?
There is no question that internet fraud is back on the increase again in the UK. Recent figures showed that card fraud in the UK rose by 16% in the UK to a staggering £450.4 million. But to put that in perspective, that is still down on the high in 2008 by 26% and that is partly due to both consumers and stores becoming more vigilant ad internet savvy.
Wherever you go in the world, down the high street or on the internet, there will always be someone who will try and scam you and to those who worry about buying things online I would say’ it’s not a half as bad as you might fear.
My own credit card details have been used fraudulently on several occasions, but I am 99.99% sure that my details have been stolen, not in the internet, but back in the real world by dishonest shop assistants. On the worst occasion that it happened to me, both myself and a work colleague had parked our cars in the same car park and we both paid by card. Both of us, the very next day, found fraudulent transactions being processed through our cards. And how did we both know about this? Because both of us were immediately notified by our banks about the suspicious transactions and the banks immediately cancelled the transactions and changed our card numbers.
The banks are on the lookout for internet online fraud and if they see that you have bought goods in New York, Delhi and London, all on the same day, they will get in touch with you. If they don’t, then you can still claim that money back because they should have spotted it!
That doesn’t stop it being inconvenient though, and who needs the hassle of potentially arguing with your bank about a purchase that you didn’t make or finding that you suddenly have no money left in your account.
However, if you take some simple precautions, you can shop safely online, just a safely as you can in your high street. If you are still an internet shopping virgin, check out these simple ways that you can make sure that you don’t get caught out.
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1. Only buy from trusted websites
The easiest way to stay safe online is to buy only from well-known brands and websites. Millions of people shop online daily using the likes of Amazon, Tesco, play.com and sites like these have strong security controls in place. The retailers themselves don’t even see your credit or debit card details, they go straight through a third party, usually a bank, so if anything you are safer online than handing over your card at a store.
2. Look for the padlock when you buy
When you buy from a reputable site you will see a tiny padlock symbol in the top bar of your web browser and the web page URL (address) will begin with HTTPS. This means that the website page is secure and any information that you pass to it will be encrypted, so no one else can intercept the message and steal the information. If you don't see the padlock, it may not be safe to buy online from this site.
3. Avoid following advertising links
Be wary of following advertising links that you find on web pages. These can be designed to mislead you into thinking that you are going to a reputable site, when in fact you are going to a scam, or phishing, web site. Always check the URL at the top of your browser or even better, type in the URL if the site that you want to visit, rather than following advertising links. Phishing sites are those that are trying to get you hand over your details so that they can use the fraudulently later.
4. Check for a website for contact information
There are some fake sites on the internet, so check that contact details and phone numbers are displayed somewhere on the web site. This is no guarantee of legitimacy, but be aware of any sites that don’t have any contact details at all. It will also allow you to check in which country the owners of the site are based.
5. Check out review sites
If you are unsure about a website, search for reviews of it, before you buy. Internet users are pretty vociferous when they find scam sites and they will be quick to warn others about scams by posting warnings and negative reviews. There are also a number of websites, like http://www.webutations.info, that publish reports on the safety and reliability of websites. It goes without saying that anyone using the internet should install security and antivirus software like McAfee or Norton. Most of these packages also include a site safety function that will display a trusted, or not not trusted, score next to sites when you search as well.
6. Use credit cards rather than debit cards
When you use a credit card instead of a debit card, you get far more protection from fraud or non-delivery. Credit cards are covered by consumer credit legislation so you have a far better cover and it is much easier to dispute a transaction with your credit card company.
7. Use intermediary payment methods
A good way to keep your main bank account safe when buying online is to use an intermediary payment method like PayPal. You can easily sign up for a PayPal account and then use that to make purchases from merchants. Using PayPal means that you never give out your bank details online and the most that you can lose, if someone does steal your details, is how much you have in your PayPal account. A similar alternative is to have a separate debit or credit card that you only use for online purchases.
8. Check the terms and conditions carefully
Always read the terms and conditions, especially with regards to the returns policy. Often there is just a single checkbox that you tick to accept the seller's terms and with just a single tick, you accept whatever is contained therein! Be especially careful about returns policies. You want to be able to return goods if they don’t meet your expectations. Check also that you get your money back for a return, not just a credit that you have to spend at that particular store.
9. If it looks too good to be true, then think hard before you buy
There are some incredible bargains to be had online, but be wary of things that look too good to be true. You aren’t going to find an original Cartier watch for $5, especially if the seller seems to have 2,500 in stock!
10. Read product descriptions carefully
One of the biggest problems of buying online is that you can’t pick up a product, see it up close and feel it or try it on. Read the detailed product descriptions carefully and make sure that your ‘gold’ bracelet isn’t gold coloured plastic. Don’t make a buying decision based only on the glossy photo, check all the details too.
11. Shop around
When you find what you are looking for then make the most of shopping on-line and check out the price on some other sites. It’s this ability that you have to easily compare prices that keeps online stores competitive, so never buy from the first site you find. Always make some comparisons first, before you get your card out.
12. Beware of ‘hidden’ subscriptions
Another online pitfall that you can fall into is subscribing to services that you later forget all about! This is not a scam, but it is a bit cynical on the part of some online retailers. When you sign up for deals that cost only a few dollars a month, that subscription won’t be cancelled until you positively cancel it. That sounds like a deal, until you realise that not only have forgotten what the service was for, but you can’t even find the website to cancel it again. It’s just a hassle that you don’t need to get your bank to cancel it.
Be safe and enjoy your online shopping
Is shopping online really safe? Well, yes, I would say that it is. Statistically, you are safer from fraud when shopping online than you are buying face to face in a store. What’s more, it’s easier to compare prices, you won't get mugged, get caught in the rain, get a parking ticket or have your pockets picked! Just take a few simple precautions and shopping online is as safe as any other form shopping, and quite probably, even safer. Happy shopping!