Like it or lump it, today is Cyber Monday here in Ireland now, because the retailers want it to be. So we have adopted another US tradition. Most Irish people prefer to buy their stuff in bricks and mortar stores. Online shopping, though, has been growing dramatically in recent years. So with that in mind, here are some quick tips on how to do your shopping safely online.
1. Reputable sellers
You should really only go to the well known online stores. But make sure you go to their website by typing the address in if you know it. Otherwise Google it and make sure it is the proper link (e.g. amazon.co.uk, ebay.ie or littlewoodsireland.ie). If the search shows something like ebay.io or argos.ru, then don’t go near them.
I also caution against clicking on links to shopping sites from social media or other online ads. While they may be the proper sellers, online ads can be very easily compromised. If I see an offer in an ad, I go to the sellers site as I said in the previous paragraph. Yes, this is a little bit of extra hassle. Yes it will be a lot safer.
Another important item to look for on an online shopping site is the sellers postal address and telephone number. I wouldn’t buy from a place I couldn’t track down in the real world.
2. Check the reviews
For sellers that are not mainstream, I would do a Google search for “[name of website] problem” (replace [name of website] with the name of the seller or their website address).
eBay is very good at tracking a seller’s reputation. Always look for sellers with a LOT of feedback and satisfaction ratings of 98% or higher. That is my threshold which I will not shop with somebody below that level.
3. Shop on a laptop/desktop
If you are browsing on a smartphone or tablet, you may not be able to see all of the security things you need (see next item #4). This is because the mobile interface is much more restricted so some things may not be shown. If possible try to do your actual shopping on a laptop or desktop computer.
4. Look for the lock
In the past people used to say “When you see the padlock in your browser address bar, your safe and secure to shop there.” That was never strictly true, though it was quite likely that the site was reputable. Nowadays that is not the case at all. Dodgy websites can get the padlock in your browser address bar for free. Quite a lot of them have done so.
What the lock actually means is that the connection between your computer and the website is secure. Anything you type on the website will cross the internet as encrypted gibberish which only the destination site can turn back into your name, address, credit card number, etc.
These days most browsers will warn you if a site doesn’t have a lock. It will say “Not Secure” in front of the site’s address. I wouldn’t shop on any site that says this, so you shouldn’t do so either. They don’t care much for security.
5. Use a credit card (not a debit card)
Ideally you should use a Credit Card as it is easier to reverse a fraudulent transaction. It is also possible on some Debit Cards, but a Credit Card is better.
A seller should never ask for the PIN for your card – so NEVER divulge that.
Never put Credit Card details in an e-mail to anyone. These should only be entered on a reputable website (#1), with a lock (#4).
Never use wire transfer facilities to send a seller money. You will never be able to get your money back if they are criminals.
6. Always pay on the shopping platform
There are some sneaky thieves out there who set up as a seller on the likes of Amazon.co.uk. They then advertise something that is normally very expensive for a very low price. For example a brand new iPhone XS, which currently sells for £1,099 being offered for £600. That’s a great deal isn’t it and sure it’s Cyber Monday so it must be legit. You’re on Amazon, so it’s safe and secure. You go and buy the phone.
Next thing you know you get contacted by the seller, by email to say they have some problem processing your order and can you send them your credit card info by email. See the previous point (#5). Don’t engage with them and just report them to Amazon.
This leads on nicely to…
7. If it looks too good to be true …
… it probably is. While we hear that there are great bargains to be had out there, if something is massively discounted, take time to look into the offer before handing over payment. If the seller is pushing for a quick sale (e.g. “Sale price ends in 15 minutes!”), then really step back from it. It’s almost certainly a scam.
8. Check your statements
This may be a boring as hell thing to have to do, but the banking apps that are available on smartphones are really handy and make checking your account a breeze. Keep an eye out for any transaction that looks dodgy and report anything suspicious to your bank. Use the telephone number on the back of your credit or debit card to call them.
Those are our tips for shopping safely online.
Enjoy your shopping experience.
Lets be careful out there.