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How Do You Shop Online Safely?

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More than £190,000 a day is lost in the UK by victims of cyber-crime, police statistics show. When shopping online we need to be aware of a few things to ensure we don’t get caught with our pants down.

1. Check the Web Address

Ensure all websites you send payment details over have a https web address (not simply http, without the ‘s’). There should be a little padlock by the address bar to show that this is a secure connection.

2. Learn to Spot a Fake Site

You need to be aware of and be able to identify fake sites and online shops. Fake shops are setup for the sole purpose of defrauding us and stealing our credit card information. Amazing offers can be sent to us by email or advertised by ads in our browsers. However, fake online shops will never actually ship any products to us. So, how do you tell a fake shop from a real one?

o Payment Methods - if you can’t pay with the usual payment methods (credit / debit card) then this should be a warning sign.
o Too good to be true? Always ask yourself if there are massive discounts, how is this company making money when the discounts are so great?
o Clunky Website Design – online retailers spend tens of thousands of pounds every year, honing and refining their websites. If it’s not as slick as you’d expect, it could indicate an amateur outfit.
o Poor Grammar and English – scammers can be global and often their English is not native quality.
o Google reviews – unless the website is brand new, the likelihood is that someone has been scammed before and posted about it online to warn you! Organisations like McAfee and Google offer free website evaluation reports where they evaluate how ‘dodgy’ the referred to website appears so these might be worth a glance.
o Check the contact information - if it seems too informal (e.g. Hotmail email address) then it’s likely to be a fake.

3. Use the ‘Guest’ Checkout

Unless you are a regular shopper at a particular website, always use the ‘Guest Check-out’ option. This means the company won’t save all your personal information and it helps limit the risk of it being lost. This doesn’t mean you have to fill out all those annoying forms manually…you can use the auto-complete features of your web browser to prevent having to type everything out each time you need to fill in an online form. Checkout this post here to find out exactly how to do that for your specific browser.

4. If Away From Home, Always VPN

This one is HUGE. If you’re away from home and doing some online shopping via a café or airport, ensure you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect through as the public WiFi connection will not be secure. Cyber criminals often setup fake WiFi networks that look legit and steal all the data that then flows through them. You might think that you’re connected to London Heathrow’s WiFi but in fact you’re not, and all the emails, banking passwords and credit card details you just sent via this WiFi before boarding your plane has been harvested by cyber criminals. Using a VPN essentially turns insecure networks into a secure one. They create a secure connection from you to the internet so cyber criminals can’t steal your details. Checkout my recommendation here for which VPN to use.

5. Always Log Out

Always ensure you log out of online shopping sites once you’re done shopping. I won’t go into the technical details behind this but not logging out essentially keeps the window open for cyber criminals to get access to your account. Simply closing your browser is not enough to ensure your security, always click ‘Log Out’ once you’re done!

6. Use a Dedicated Debit Card & Email Address (optional)

You can use a dedicated debit card for online shopping but I’d say this is overkill unless you are a repeat victim to fraud or identity theft. Do try and use your credit card (rather than debit card, bank wire, Paypal, BitCoin, etc.) as you’ll have greater reimbursement and fraud protection when using a credit card as opposed to the other payment options. Never transfer money directly into somebody’s bank account (i.e. when they give you a bank account number and sort code) – always use a dedicated third party payment authoriser like your credit card, PayPal, ApplePay or WorldPay.

If you follow the five or six things above, you’ll be absolutely golden when browsing and shopping online. Got questions? Just ask me in the comments below and I’ll be sure to answer you shortly!

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