According to the Centre for Retail Research in the run up to Christmas 2014, on line shopping in the UK comprised very nearly 25% of all sales made. This was up a whopping 19% on the year before. We spent over £17bn on-line in the six weeks before Christmas 2014.
As the BBC reported Scammers, hackers, thieves and crooks of all persuasions are gearing up to take advantage of our increasing adoption of online purchasing and are planning even more cunning ways to part us from our money.
Here are 10 ways to shop safely on line….
- Visit familiar websites that you know and trust; if you find a site offering incredible deals way down on page eight of a Google search , there is likely to be something awry. If the deal was that good, it should have appeared on the first page or two.
- Be aware of ‘look-alike’ sites that either use a misspelling of a real business name (e.g. johmlewis.com) or a different ending to an existing web address (for example .net rather than .com or .com.uk instead of .co.uk).The ‘look-alikes’ are sometimes all but identical to the real sites since the crooks have simply cloned the site they are pretending to be. Always check in the address bar of your browser to make sure you really are where you think you are.
- Look for the lock icon.When sending details of your credit card always look to see if Secure Socket Layer encryption has been enable. This is shown by the web address changing from http://www.. to https://www.. (the all important ‘s’ indicating that it is a secure connection).Depending on your browser you should also have visible confirmation that a secure connection is now in use. A padlock is added either in the status bar or right next to the site address in Chrome. If you are being asked for your card details and there is no padlock the absence of the lock icon should have alarm bells ringing immediately.You wouldn’t stand in the middle of the street shouting out the details of your credit card, so why do the equivalent on line!
- Keep your browser and computer operating systems up to date. Same goes for your anti-virus and other security programs. Hackers in particular, attempt to exploit known weaknesses in programs. Omitting to update key software is like leaving a window open in your house. You are making it easy for the crooks to gain entry.
- Consider using a browser with the Safe Browsing function installed. Browsers that incorporate Safe Browsing include Google Chrome, Firefox & Safari.Safe Browsing warns the user when they are about to access a site that may have potential threats. More than 5 million warnings per day for all sorts of malicious sites and unwanted software are provided by Safe Browsing.
- Credit rather than debit. The payment protection afforded by using a credit card rather than a debit card is usually greater. Whilst no one ever wants anything to go wrong, at least this might offer a little more peace of mind. Even better than that, try switching to a payment service such as PayPal.
These services never reveal your credit card to the online merchant meaning that if you do inadvertently fall foul of a look-alike site, then at least your card details are still secure.
- Exercise caution when downloading new apps. Only download apps from trusted sources such as Google Play (for Android) or the Apple App Store (for Apple devices). Cyber-thieves have deliberately made similar looking apps to existing ones that can harvest sensitive information.If in doubt, thoroughly read the reviews of the app before installing it to see what other users have to say about that app.
- If something seems to be “too good to be true”, it probably is. Unsolicited email containing details of incredible bargains are almost always bait to get you to access a site that cyber-crooks will use to steal data, information or money from you.A common ploy to encourage people to click a link in an email is to make the offer time sensitive, “Hurry, only available for 24 hours“, or saying it is for the “first 200 customers only“. Even if the mail comes from a friend you should still exercise great caution; it is easy to ‘spoof’ an email message so that it appears to come from someone other than the true sender.
- This is a good time to check that you are using strong, unique passwords for all of the sites where you have set up an account. Using weak, easily guessed passwords or using the same password across multiple sites is simply making it easy for the cyber-thieves should your details fall into their hands. If you are not sure what makes a good password, here are some great password tips from Google.
- Finally, once you have those strong secure and unique passwords in place, you don’t want to forget them (which let’s face it, is easily done when you have tens of sites where you have an account). Password vaults such as Keepass or LastPass are an excellent way of managing numerous passwords.
Shopping on line is convenient and brings a world of choice and convenience to your front room. Done with a reasonable amount of caution, it is no less risky than shopping on the high street. Done with less awareness and a degree of carelessness or naivety, and you face a chance of getting scammed, fooled or sadly robbed.
Take care and above all, stay safe.