The reluctant online shopper

The reluctant online shopper

I have never shopped online but I am going to have to bite the bullet and dip my toe in the water and take the bull by the horns to use three metaphors, as I do almost everything else online.

Before I start I have been doing some research to make sure I follow the safely guidelines and I will share these with you.

Shopping safely online

Online shopping is a great way to compare prices, pick up bargains and track down those hard-to-find gifts – and with a bit of know-how anyone can do it safely. You just need to stick to a few sensible rules and stay alert for warning signs.

  • Avoid buying from companies you don’t recognise, unless they’ve been recommended by someone trustworthy.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover – a slick website can be a front for a shady business.
  • Check that it’s a real company. If in doubt, search for their details with Companies House. For financial firms, check that they’re on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register
  • Get their full contact details. An email address or mobile number isn’t enough – you need to be able to access the company’s address and telephone number. And, you might want to call them before you buy. If you can’t find an address and contact details, be very cautious.
  • Take care with overseas companies. You’re less likely to have heard of them, so it’s harder to judge if they’re legitimate.
  • Check the site’s privacy and returns policy. It should tell you what you can do if you’re not happy with your purchase, and whether your details will be passed on to other people (often meaning you’ll get spam emails).
  • Check customer reviews. Individual sellers on Amazon and eBay can sometimes be unreliable, but they should have ratings from other shoppers to give you an idea.
  • Keep printouts. You should keep a copy of your order and anything else the company sends you, for example an email telling you that your item has been shipped. You should be able to save these on your computer if you don’t want to print them out.
  • Match up your bank or card statement. Check that the money going out of your account matches the amount that you spent.
  • Keep your passwords secure. Don’t write them down, and try to use different passwords for different sites.
  • Take your time. If you’re not comfortable, or you’re not sure what you want to buy, you can always try again later, or get a second opinion or find a better-known supplier.
  • Never transfer or receive money for someone else.

How to make sure you’re on a secure site

You should only put your card details into sites that are secure – otherwise someone else could intercept them and use them for fraud. On a secure site, you should see a few reassuring signs.

  • The padlock symbol. Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window – in the frame of the browser, not in the web page itself. This suggests that the site is secure, but it’s not a guarantee, and it doesn’t mean that the seller is honest.
  • The website address. The address in your address bar should begin https:// rather than http:// – the S stands for secure.
  • A green address bar. Sometimes on a secure site all or part of your address bar may turn green. This depends on your browser and the website, but it’s generally a good sign. Clicking on it will give details of the site’s security.
  • A valid certificate. If you click on the padlock, or just to the left of the address bar, you should see information on the site certificate. This should tell you who has registered the site. If you get a warning about a certificate, be very cautious indeed.
  • Learn more about secure web pages at the Get Safe Online website

What about other online payment methods?

As long as you haven’t acted fraudulently or negligently, you will get your money back from your card company if your card details are used online by a criminal to commit fraud.

Using an e-money company (like PayPal or Google Checkout) means you don’t need to give out your credit card details every time you shop. However, you don’t get the same legal protection if things go wrong.

Stay alert for scams

It’s a well-known fact – if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Top tips for avoiding scams:

  • Buy only from companies you know.
  • Never buy something from a spam or unsolicited email.
  • If you’re suspicious, crosscheck online. Do a web search for the company name and the word ‘scam’ – if you find complaints from other people, keep well clear.
  • Avoid work-from-home scams – they never pay.

by Charlotte Corthold