Shopping Safely Online this Christmas
25th November 2016
If you're looking to survive the Christmas crushes while shopping this festive season, online is the way to go. More and more of us shop from home each year, and it's a massive Christmas bonus for online fraudsters and scam artists. Here's what you need to know to stuff your stockings safely this holiday.
Stick to the well-trodden paths.
When you're buying presents, it's a good idea to shop around for the best deals. In fact, this is one of the best things about the internet. The days of traipsing from store to store in the cold are in the past. These days, you can compare prices and terms in seconds. All it takes is a mouse in one hand and a steaming mug of tea in the other. Be careful where you wander online, though. Stick to the sites you know and trust. If you find yourself looking at a deal that's too good to be true, think twice before handing over your card details. Look for site reviews if you don't know anyone who's used the online shop you're considering. You can even check the place out using a range of free tools or verification sites. The point is to know who you're dealing with, and it's a crucial one.
While we're on the subject, always make sure they're who they actually say they are. Double-check the address, and make sure it starts with "https://". If you don't see a padlock symbol in your browser window, keep your credit card in your pocket. Make sure it is in the browser window, too. some scam sites put the symbol on the page itself, where it's completely meaningless.
Keep your computers healthy.
It's not just your own health you have to look after in the flu season. If you're not running anti-virus software on all your computers then you're basically begging to get scammed. It's not enough just to have the program, either. Good computer healthcare take some work. You've got to keep your antivirus and firewall systems updated, and run their scans regularly. Whatever security software you're running, it's only ever as good as you let it be.
Keep it to yourself.
Of course, all the security applications in the world won't do you any good if you're not "locking your doors" online. If you're shopping on a phone or laptop in public, take a moment to consider the risks. Free wifi is one of the great conveniences of modern society - but remember that you're getting exactly the security you're paying for.
Definitely avoid keeping your file sharing options enabled in an unsecured wifi zone. Don't even think about entering bank passwords or other financial details if you're not very sure you're in a safe place.
Speaking of passwords - long, strong and unique are the ways to go. Never use the same password for two sites or applications, and don't make them obvious. Swap between upper and lower case letters, and between numbers and symbols wherever possible.
Use a credit card and stay protected.
Credit cards can offer an extra layer of protection when you're shopping online. If you get stung by a seller, you can get free cover on purchases between £100 and £30,000. There are some ins and outs about it, so make sure you know where you stand before paying up. If you do use a credit card, by the way, try to pay it off early.
Leaving debts stacking up interest is a bad idea, even if you did stay safe online.
Stay on top of your spending.
If you've ever claimed a tax refund or filed a Self Assessment tax return, then you're already used to keeping track of your spending. When your bank statements come in, always go through them, even if the bottom line looks about right. If a scammer steals your identity, one of the first things he'll try is often a small purchase. That's his little exploratory jab before the knockout punch. If the little purchase goes through, he knows he's got you on the ropes. Pretty soon, you'll find yourself with a much bigger problem. You might be able to get a fraudulent transaction refunded, but you've got to notice it before it's too late.
Speaking of refunds, clawing some cash back from the taxman is a perfect way to soften the blow of Christmas shopping. A 4-year tax refund claim could easily be worth thousands of pounds, so talk to RIFT to see if you qualify. It's your money after all; don't let the taxman steal your Christmas this year.