How to protect yourself when shopping online

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Don’t get caught out by scams when making online payments

Christmas shopping in the 21st century means less pavement pounding and more keyboard bashing. Last year, £24 billion was spent on online Christmas shopping, a 12% increase from 2014, with a further increase projected this year.

Opportunists have taken advantage of this growth in online spending, with the amount of money lost to fraudulent transactions and online scams rising a staggering 42% in the same time period, from £9m to £16m.

With the pressure to get the right gift for your loved ones and time and financial constraints coming into play, it is sometimes easy to fall into a well-designed trap. There are however some easy precautions that can be taken to decrease the chance of Christmas become more expensive than it already is.

A simple Google search for a popular product will often throw up several results, with the top result being a third party retailer or online store. It is not uncommon for online scammers to set up a legitimate looking website complete with logos and images for the product and even a registered address.

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Secure websites will display https:// and the padlock key

The website will then disappear with all traces of your purchase as soon as enough money has been made from multiple victims or if someone manages to shut it down. There are also ‘gateway’ pages, where you may be diverted from a trusted website to a seamless alternative payment page where your credit card details are stolen.

A simple way to see if the website is using a secure connection to your device is too look at the website prefix. If the website address in the search bar at the top of the page beings with https:, this means that any communication with that particular website is taking place securely.

On some browsers, a small padlock or green safety box may appear in the search bar to show that the connection is safe. It’s also just as easy to Google the name of the website you are considering buying from. If someone has already been caught out, there may be warnings from others not to fall for the same trick and many review and internet safety sites keep databases of common scamming websites.

If a deal seems very cheap compared to the official website or a well known retailer, it may be the case that fraudsters are using popular products advertised at knock-down prices as bait. The general rule when buying from unknown sources is that if it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

Another easy fix to ensure that you don’t fall victim to a page diversion or data stripping scam is to keep your antivirus software up to date. These software services will carry the most up to date protection methods and might help you to spot an unsecured connection if isn’t obvious at first.

Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to access the internet will make it difficult for scammers to view your personal information or steal your financial details. A VPN adds an additional level of security by creating a secure private network, often using encrypted communication to ensure that any details you share with another website aren’t viewable by other potentially shady characters monitoring the connection.

When out and about, open Wi-Fi might prove an easy way to shop for a cheaper alternative of something you found in a store, but open Wi-Fi is easily hacked, and details stolen. For individuals eager to know more, there are websites that offer assistance on how to find the right VPN for your needs.

If you are buying through an auction site such as eBay, always carry out transactions through the website itself – never agree to cash transactions outside of the eBay parameters, such as meeting a buyer or seller in person to complete a transaction.

Being safe when Christmas shopping isn’t just limited to shopping online. It is easy to forget to cover your pin when you’re are carrying bags or are distracted by a great bargain, leaving you open to cyber thieves who may clone your card or steal it outright. Just use your purse or wallet as a shield to ensure your finger movements aren’t being followed.

Christmas should be a joyful occasion and following these simple precautions will ensure that cyber criminals don’t ruin it for you or your family.

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