Are your Online Purchases Safe?

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More and more people do their shopping online. Whether it is a gift, something practical, or the weekly shop, people are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to online shopping.

However, there are risks out there that an equal number of people might not be aware of. Shopping online can feel safe because it is remote and done from the safety of your own home, but there are plenty of pitfalls that can put sensitive data – bank details, address, and so on, into the hands of undesirable and unscrupulous people.

Below, we will take a look at the best ways to stay safe online and ensure that purchases don’t come with an added nasty surprise.

Use a Credit Card when Possible

This is one of the easiest safety precautions to follow. Credit cards, more so than debit cards, are a safer way to shop online. Moreover, they can carry much less liability than a standard debit card. 

Credit cards, depending on the bank they are issued from, carry limited liability – some card issuers will carry a holder liability of up to £50, whilst some have none for the holder. This means that if the holder makes a purchase and, somehow, their details are used fraudulently, the holder will not be held responsible for any charges racked up. This is a great safety blanket for the user and something that just is not offered. Be warned, however, as some issuers will hold the user liable for the full amount if they feel that the holder has acted without reasonable care. 

Research the Retailer

With certain online retailers – Amazon, iTunes etc, their brand and size is such that little research is required. With smaller or unknown vendors, this is a different story. 

In these cases, it is always the best idea to seek out as much information – contact details, business reviews, in order to ascertain that the company is legitimate and reputable. The usual urge is to trust the site and go ahead and buy what you want, but that is not the most prudent way to proceed. Always research the business and find information and reviews, lest the card used ends up with all manner of nefarious purchases on it.

Look for the Little Things

Little points can mean a lot when it comes to purchasing online. Certain markers and tell-tale signs will indicate if the site is trustworthy or should give the shopper cause for concern. 

An instant indication of the security of their site lies in plain sight. In the browser bar, before the site’s name, there is the familiar http protocol. If the http has the ‘s’ after it, then it means the connection is encrypted. This makes it much harder for prospective fraudsters to steal information. A green padlock will usually accompany the https protocol, which is another indicator of the safety of the connection.

In addition to these indicators, look for seals on the site’s homepage. These will usually take the form of well-known online security programs, such as VeriSign, MacAfee, and so on. These show that the site is dedicated to keeping their customer’s data secure, but are not a reason to cease being vigilant.

Do the work on Your End

It is all well and good, looking at all of the security measures that a website is offering but it doesn’t mean anything if the user isn’t taking care of themselves.

Firstly, passwords are important. Some people seem them as annoyances that get in the way of making a purchase, but they are important. They need to be strong, hard to guess, and unique. It is not a good idea to use the same password for every feature of online life. This means that if the user’s security is compromised on one site, then everything else could fall like dominoes. It is the identity fraudster’s dream scenario that a user’s password is the same across their entire online life. This makes it infinitely easier to get hold of all kinds of information.

Keeping software up to date is also vitally important. Browsers, no matter which one should be updated regularly. This is not only to maintain smooth, enjoyable web surfing, but also to protect against the latest exploits that hackers and online criminals will eventually find in every browser. In conjunction, anti-virus software needs updating as often as possible. Again, this will immunise the user’s computer from harmful Trojans and viruses that can infect a system and steal specific data; some viruses will intentionally seek out bank details or read the keystrokes when a user is accessing their bank account online.

Always shop in a secure location

As much as the intent of online shopping is the ability to do it anywhere, it is advisable to avoid doing it on shared or public computers. This could mean a cybercafé, library, school, university, or myriad other places.

It is all too easy to close a website without logging out first and that, in turn, makes it all too easy for someone to access personal accounts – be they bank or online shopping. Sites such as Amazon operate with ‘one click purchases’, so that repeat users are spared entering their bank details upon every visit. This is very convenient and makes shopping a breeze, but it is a boon to those who lack scruples.

Always shop somewhere private away from prying eyes – you never know who is watching.

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Whilst there are many factors to staying secure online, there is one word that sums up the best approach – vigilance. Being aware of the pitfalls means knowing how to avoid them and is the gateway to an anxiety-free shopping experience.