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We've all heard scare stories of credit card fraud and viruses that wipe out financial information. Maybe that's why only a quarter of people with net access regularly shop online. Fear not, there are several ways to make e-shopping safer.

Look for symbols

Secure sites will have a little padlock or unbroken key symbol at the bottom of the screen. This means your financial details will be encrypted (scrambled) so they can't be read by anybody while in transit.

Find the logos

Hundreds of sales sites are members of voluntary schemes that have agreed to stick to good codes of practice. Examples include the 'Which Web Trader' and 'TrustUK' logos.

Check the address

The start of the URL will change from 'http://' to 'https://' if you make a purchase on a safe site, indicating that the e-tailer has a secure server.

Buy British

Not a load of xenophobic flag-waving, honest! If you buy goods from UK sites then you are protected by the same consumer laws covering high street shops. So if the goods are faulty or fail to arrive, your rights are protected. The exception to this rule is when you are buying from a single individual, rather than a business.

Pay by credit card

If you use a credit card, rather than a debit card, you will be protected against credit card fraud in most cases.

Read the small print

A good site will give you full details about delivery, refund policies and privacy agreements. There should also be contact details including full address and telephone number. Be wary if there are no contact details, or they use a PO box number.

Trust your instincts

If a deal looks too good to be true, it often is. If you have a bad feeling about an online sale then don't do it. If you think a site is OK, but you don't think their security is good enough, make your purchase over the phone with a credit card.

Keep a note

Print off and keep a copy of the online confirmation of your order. It's a bit like keeping your till receipts.

Coming soon

'Mixer' technology for credit cards will mean consumers don't have to give their details over the net. Instead, they are given a unique number for each online purchase that is valid for one transaction only.

Updated: 07/12/2004

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