When you shop online you have greater consumer rights, as the Consumer Contract Regulations give you the right to change your mind about the goods and seek a refund any time up to 14 days after delivery. The pandemic has resulted in more shoppers purchasing online and we are also now into Christmas shopping and Black Friday/Cyber Monday season. Millions of pounds will therefore be spent online over the coming weeks.
However, it is not just consumers who are busy online at this time of year; It is a peak time for hackers and scammers, too. In the current climate, the internet is full of scams and it is important to know how to navigate around these and therefore how to ‘shop safe’. Here is my guide to dodging the fraudsters.
BEFORE YOU START TO SHOP…
Is your antivirus and spyware software up to date?
You should not go anywhere near the internet without up to date antivirus software and spyware on your computer or phone. Fraudsters are very clever, and have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves for stealing your data when you surf the web, so it is vitally important that you are protected against this. Good antivirus software will fight spam, phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites (the latter two try and steal your personal information by mimicking a message or site that looks legitimate). Remember, it is not enough simply to have it installed, and you must make sure your anti-malware tools are always up to date.
Are your passwords strong enough?
Make sure you have strong passwords for your emails, bank account, computers, and everything else which requires a password. Fraudsters will make use of things like your address or date of birth when trying to crack your passwords, so don’t use these obvious words/numbers.
Think about a separate email address
It is becoming common for people to set up an email address which they will use solely for online shopping and online accounts. Should this email account be compromised, the fraudsters will not also have access to the information in your usual account.
Check your WiFi is secure
Avoid using public wi-fi if you can, which can be a breeding ground for fraudsters as they can intercept passwords and credit card details when you are linked to wi-fi. However, if you download and subscribe to a VPN (short for: virtual private network), you will be much safer. The VPN sets up a private, encrypted and secure link between your device and the website, stopping hackers from intercepting your data, and also protecting your privacy.
BEFORE YOU CLICK ON A WEBSITE…
Check out the retailer
It is always advisable to know who you are buying from. A simple search of the retailer’s name in a search engine will probably tell you all you need to know, good or bad. Most retailers have reviews and comments about them online, but if you are unable to find any information, my advice is to shop elsewhere.
Word of caution: some fraudsters will be one step ahead here and will create fake reviews online. If you see nothing but positive feedback, and cannot tell if the authors of the reviews are legitimate customers, follow your instincts.
Look for the lock
Never buy anything online from a site which does not have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You can easily see if a site has this as the URL (site address) will start with HTTPS—instead of just HTTP. An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically to the left of the URL in the address bar, or the status bar down below, depending on your browser.
Word of caution: The padlock sign means that your connection is encrypted, so your personal information will reach the site without anyone else being able to read it. However, it gives you no guarantee that the website itself is not controlled by fraudsters, so you still need to exercise caution.
Some browsers such as Google Chrome will give you a warning about websites which they do not deem to be secure. These warnings are not always warranted, but you should certainly take notice of them.
TO AVOID BEING SCAMMED…
Carry out these basic checks on the website
- Spelling mistakes – Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Fake sites spell words differently to trick you in to thinking you’re on a well-known website. Check how they spell things like the site address
- Odd looking web pages – Fake sites often don’t quite look right. The colours and logo may look different to what you’d normally see.
- Amazing deals – If prices on a site are a lot lower than other sellers, it could be a scam.
- Odd ways of paying – A fake site may ask you to pay by direct bank or wire transfer. These are hard to trace and if things do go wrong, you may not get your money back.
- Company details – all genuine websites should contain the retailer’s full company name, company number (unless it is a sole trader, or partnership), registered and trading address, and a contact number and/or email address.
DON’T BE FOOLED BY…
In recent times fraudsters have taken to using images of celebrities, with favourable quotations/reviews, suggesting that the products being sold are endorsed by them. This is designed to reel you in, and to give you confidence in the purchase, but many of these are scams. The image of Anne Hegerty from ITV’s ‘The Chase’, was used as part of a scam exactly in this way. I represented her and helped put a stop to the scam, however many people were fooled into believing it was genuine.
Deals that sound too good to be true
Sounds obvious, but if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is, and it is therefore a scam.
BEFORE YOU PAY…
Don’t give away too much information
Fraudsters want your personal details, and the more, the better. Genuine retailers will not ask you for information like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, or your first primary school. These are all the type of security questions your bank would ask to permit access to your account. The only information a retailer should need is your address and your bank/card details.
Consider your payment method
My advice is to use a credit card for online purchases wherever possible. This gives you more protection if a retailer goes bust, or the goods do not arrive, or are faulty. Keep a sharp eye on your statements and alert your card issuer if you spot anything you do not recognise. You can also consider using PayPal if it is offered as a means of making a payment. PayPal offers its own dispute resolution process, and it also means that the seller will not see your card details. Never pay by direct bank transfer.
Don’t click on links in emails and texts
Never click on a link which purports to take you to a great offer. Many of these are scams and will take you on a journey designed to steal your money and personal details.
Please don’t buy overseas
We have some of the best consumer protection laws in the world and these are not mirrored in many overseas destinations, such as China. To be safe, I always advise to shop with UK traders.
Join me in my fight against scams
I launched the LBC Consumer Hour Scam Awareness campaign this month. By raising awareness of scams, it helps in preventing people falling victim to them. If you are aware of any scams, or indeed have fallen victim to one, please do let me know.