Look for padlock symbols
Secure sites will have a little padlock or unbroken key symbol displayed by your browser. Depending which browser you use, the padlock might appear at the bottom of the window, or in the address bar where web URLs are displayed. The lock symbol is important – it means your financial details will be encrypted (scrambled) so they can’t be read by anybody while in transit. The padlock means your credit card information is safe while it makes the journey from your computer to the website’s servers.
Find the internet safety logos
Some shopping sites are members of voluntary schemes that have agreed to stick to good codes of practice, such as the Internet Shopping is Safe scheme. That doesn’t mean that sites not in the scheme aren’t trustworthy, but it does give you an official body to complain to if things go wrong.
Check the URL address
The start of the URL will change from ‘http://’ to ‘https://’ if you are shopping over a secure connection indicating that the e-tailer has a secure server. This might not appear until you reach the payment stage, or view the contents of your electronic trolley or basket.
Buy British online
Not a load of xenophobic flag-waving, honest! If you buy goods from UK-based sites then you’re 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. If you want to buy something from another country read our advice first.
Pay by credit card online
For purchases over £100, it may be better to use a credit card, rather than a debit card because you get additional protection if the organisation fails to deliver your goods. 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 particularly wary if there are no contact details, or if the postal address is just a PO box number.
Trust your instincts
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have a bad feeling about an online sale then don’t go through with 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.
If you’re unsure about a site’s background, research it a bit. Search for user reviews or comments on other sites. If the site you’re looking at has caused problems for other people, you’ll soon be able to find out about them. Equally, sites with a good reputation will be mentioned on people’s blogs and homepages. Go with recommendations from people you know: good sites that treat customers well often get more custom through word of mouth.
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.
Keep it separate
Get yourself a second credit card that you use only for online shopping. Keep the credit limit low, and make sure the balance is paid off every month by direct debit from a bank account. If this credit account gets compromised online, just throw it away and open a new one.
Photo of credit card by Shutterstock
- The Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0300 500 5000
- The Citizens Advice Bureau has a great Advice4Me page, which explains legal rights specifically for under-25s.
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Updated on 25-Sep-2012