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How to shop safely online – vital Dos and Don’ts

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Apr 28, 2017

We love shopping online in this country. 

In fact, we leave the rest of Europe standing.

Research by the Centre for Retail Research shows that we spent a whopping £45 billion online last year and in 2015, that’s expected to rise by over 16% to £52 billion.

This makes the UK the leading online spender in Europe by far – we account for around 33% of Europe’s total of £157 billion.

Where there’s a market this size, there will always be a number of scammers, or just businesses that don’t operate fairly.

One piece of good news, though, is that while we still do the vast majority of our shopping using PCs, tablets and especially smartphones, are rapidly increasing in importance.

This matters because, while once these devices were considered less secure than PCs, the general view is that the reverse is now true.

The reason is due to apps, which are now more sophisticated and have better ways of securely storing sensitive information.

Having said that, no-one should be lulled into thinking any kind of online transaction is risk free, because it isn’t.

Most fraud though – contrary to many people’s perceptions – is not carried out through ultra-sophisticated hackers, but by people being careless about what they click and not taking simple precautions. In short, by them just being complacent about security.

If you are caught out online, make a complaint on A Spokesman Said to warn others and try our tips on how to get your money back

Here are five tips that can help us all have a happy shopping experience.


Know the site you’re dealing with?  

If the site is one you have dealt with before and is a reputable one, then clearly your risk is considerably lessened.

If you can, you should only deal with sites that are known to you or that have been recommended by friends – ones that you know others have interacted with successfully.

There are two main points of weakness in any transaction:

One, when you enter your credit or debit card details.  Who is watching and recording these details?

Two is when you hit ‘pay now’ key.

This is why it’s so important to know who you’re dealing with. 

If the company is unfamiliar, then look them up, look for reviews and try searching for the company name along with the word ‘scam’ or ‘complaint’ and see what comes up.

You’ll then need to judge whether what you uncover are unreasonable complaints, one offs or genuine ones that should make you wary.


Road silhouette


Is the offer fantastic or does it seem like something for nothing?

Experience should tell you that this is suspicious. Basically it’s almost certainly a trap for the gullible. 

Ok, it may be genuine, but at the very least you should be on red alert. Check the small print, check the term and conditions.

We receive so many complaints from people who sign up for “free’ offers that require their credit card details. 

It shouldn’t take much to work out that the business requires your card details because it hopes to debit your card, if not now then later – probably because you will forget to cancel your ‘trial period’ within a specified time.

Make sure you understand exactly what will happen if you don’t cancel and, if this is something you do not want to sign up to, then make sure you cancel that card payment.  

Perhaps, better still, don’t get involved in the first place as a trial period that isn’t flagged before it ends by a reminder is designed to pick up people who forget. Hardly a ‘customer first’ philosophy.


Make sure you know what you’re buying

It’s very easy to hit the ‘buy now’ key and imagine you know exactly what you’ve selected. But don’t rely solely on an illustration or a photo, for example. 

A photo may show the item you’re buying is black, but is that actually what you selected?


Check your selections

And when you’ve completed the transaction, check the emailed confirmation. If you don’t get an emailed confirmation, don’t let this go. Instead, get in in touch with the company and insist on one.


Secure payments

Don’t use a site for payment that does not use a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

This might sound techie, but you can tell if a site is using SSL because its address will start with https, not http. 

Or there will be a padlock icon, either at the bottom corner of your browser, or in the address bar field, depending on the browser you use.

Pay by Pay Pal, or via your card issuer, if you can. Don’t use a debit card (even if there’s a payment   for a credit card) unless you are sure the site you’re buying from is secure.

Never pay by bank transfer unless you personally know the person you are paying. 

Never send card details via email or text. 

Generally speaking, if you’re buying an item or signing up for a service, you’ll have more come back if you use a credit card than a debit card, which will immediately debits your bank account. 

Ts&Cs.  Who honestly reads terms and conditions?  Few, if any of us. But if we want to be sure of what we’re buying, we really should. It’s a pain, but this is where you’re going to find the hidden catches, if there are any.

And, whatever the site might say about right to cancel, if you buy online, you always have a right to do this. 

Check you know the timeframe, though. And if you do decide to cancel, ensure you act well within the deadline.

Some sites will be more than happy to let you sign up to a service or product online but then have the cheek to insist that you phone or even write a letter to cancel.

Such a business might well be one you decide doesn’t put the interests of its customers first. You’ll need to draw your own conclusions, but whatever else you do, make sure you know what is required to cancel.


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