Features | 01 Dec 2023

How to stay safe while shopping online this Christmas

Avoiding online scams and fraudsters, whether you're shopping for festive gifts or not, isn't as difficult as you might think.

Bargain hunting online is now a part of our everyday lives, so the number of us who could be exposed to fraudsters trying to steal our money while shopping online could be staggeringly high.

David Share, founder of IT support business Amazing Support, says that UK consumers have already lost £1.6 billion to fraudsters this year, with online shopping and auction sites the most common place for falling prey to scams.

“It is important to take all the necessary precautions to ensure any online transactions are safe and secure,” he says.

A ‘flood’ of scams

Experts say that everyone should learn the most important steps to take to ensure that they don’t lose money online.

James Bore, who runs cybersecurity consultancy Bores, says that being “extremely cautious and verifying anyone you’re dealing with very carefully” should be your starting point.

“Most social media platforms are flooded with counterfeit goods, cheaply produced junk, and outright scams where [ordered] goods will never be received,” he warns.

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Fake websites that look genuine are an easy way for fraudsters to take your card details and cash.

The precautions to take

When shopping online, take the following steps before giving away any card details.

  1. Check websites carefully

Even if you think you’ve used a website before, you should always take a quick look at the website address when you are shopping to check that it is genuine.

Tony Neate, CEO at GetSafeOnline, a partnership between banks and other organisations promoting online safety, suggests using the company’s free Check a Website tool as an additional way of checking an online store’s legitimacy.

  1. Play your cards right

Paying for your online shopping with a credit card gives you an extra layer of protection against fraud thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

If you buy goods worth more than £100, but less than £30,000, on a credit card, which do not arrive, then you can claim your money back from your card provider.

While Section 75 protection still applies if you pay using Apple Pay or Google Pay, it does not if you pay using a ‘buy now, pay later’ provider such as Klarna. PayPal is a complicated grey area depending on which of their services you use – if in doubt, use a credit card directly to benefit from Section 75 protection.

  1. Spot scam emails and texts

Tony Neate, at Get Safe Online, says that scam emails are particularly common during the winter holiday season, as are texts about parcels being ‘redelivered’. The texts, he says, often say there’s a charge or shipping fee for delivering a parcel, but are actually illicit ways of parting you from your cash.

“However busy you are, or however much online shopping you do, keep a record of everything you buy and, if possible, which parcel delivery firm the retailer is using,” he says.

Scam emails often say that you have won a prize or feature a special offer.

“Don’t click on links in emails, texts or posts that you’re not expecting, and don’t open unexpected email attachments,” Neate says.

  1. Be social media savvy

It is more common than ever to buy products from ads on social media sites and apps. However, David Share at Amazing Support says that organised scammers can run adverts that look real, but really aren’t.

Share says that cheap-looking ads are less likely to be genuine, so poor quality is one way to spot a fake.

“If you do purchase through social media, try to complete the transaction within the application itself – don’t follow links that lead you away from it, as you will lose any protection the app might provide.”

Fraudsters, pretending to be Vodafone, may contact you in attempts to get your Vodafone passwords, PINs or security codes.
They can use them to try to take over your account or place orders in your name.
Vodafone will never contact you to ask for security codes.
Forward suspicious texts to 7726.

If you see any unexpected changes to your Vodafone account, visit this dedicated webpage for help.

If it all goes wrong

If you fear you have been scammed, take action immediately.

  • Speak to your card provider or bank and explain the situation. They may be able to ask the seller’s bank to refund you the money.
  • If the bank won’t refund you and you think this is unfair, follow its complaints process. If you still don’t get the outcome you want, go to the financial ombudsman for a free and independent adjudication process.
  • Contact the fraud police at Action Fraud to report the crime.
  • Make sure you take the steps necessary to secure your accounts, changing your bank card and PIN if those details are compromised and changing your passwords on websites and social media too. A password manager can make this task easier.

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Know your consumer rights

Even if your Christmas purchases arrive as expected, you may still need to return them if they don’t suit the recipient, or if you receive a duplicate gift.

If you shop online, you have a legal right to return the goods for a refund – which is not automatically the case if you shop in person.

In most cases, you have 14 days to tell a merchant you want to send the goods back, though many retailers have their own individual policies that can be far more generous.

Before you buy, check if a website has a returns policy online. If it does, it must adhere to it.

If an item doesn’t arrive, you should ask the retailer for a refund. Citizens Advice has more details on who is liable and when.

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