Shop online with confidence this Christmas: 8 top tips to stay safe

Don’t fall for common scams while shopping online for gifts. Follow our advice and enjoy a safer shopping experience.

With Christmas fast approaching, this is the busiest shopping time of the year. More of us are choosing to do our shopping online, but while shopping from the comfort of the sofa is definitely more pleasant than battling high-street crowds, buying online does have its risks.

But by knowing what to look out for, you’ll minimise the chance of falling victim to a cybercrime. Here we’ll show you the warning signs to help you stay safe while shopping online.

[Read more: How technology is changing our homes]

Stick to trusted names

BT trusted site

There are thousands of websites offering goods and services of all kinds, so how do you know which to trust? Sticking to well-known names is a good start, especially those with a high-street presence, as these are better established and have a track history of trusted trading.

Another tip is to look out for the padlock that appears in the page's address bar. This means that your connection to the site is secure. If you see a greyed-out padlock with a red line through it, a yellow warning sign (an exclamation mark within a triangle) or the words "Not secure", then beware, as the connection might not be secure and your details might be vulnerable to being stolen by hackers.

Another way to check is if the web address starts with ‘https’. The 's' at the end stands for secure. If it begins with only ‘http’, without the 's', shop at your own risk.

You should be especially wary of websites you haven’t heard of before, no matter how low their prices are. Remember: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Check out the reviews


One of the great things about online shopping is that other shoppers can share their experiences with a website, both good and bad. It’s always worth reading reviews of both the quality of products they sell, and the service they provide - things like speed of delivery, quality of customer service, how the returns policy works, and so on.

Remember, reviews on the sales sites themselves might not be the most trustworthy, as in some cases the sites may control which reviews are publicised. For unbiased ratings, check out independent review sites like Trustpilot as well.

Look out for email scams

Email scam

Marketing emails can be a great way to hear about a sale and snag a deal. But they come with their own dangers – how do you know they’re genuine, and not an attempt to steal your data or infect your computer with ransomware?

You should beware any email asking you to reset your password or re-enter your account details. Often they’re disguised to look like they’re from the actual website. Check the web address, and again, look out for that ‘https’ at the beginning.

As a rule of thumb, never send personal information by email. If you’re not sure about an email you’ve received, find the company’s phone number on their website and call them to check it out. It will only take a few minutes, and could save you a lot of money and stress.

BT has lots of advice to help you stay safe from online scams.

Safeguard yourself with security software

Security software

One of the easiest measures you can take is to make sure your security software is up to date. You should do this for any device you connect to the internet, whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop PC. The first step should be to make sure you’re using the latest version of the operating system, as this will have the newest security features.

BT Broadband customers can use Virus Protect and Web Protect. The former is anti-virus software that protects from viruses, phishing attacks, scams and more, it works in the backgroun to detect threats and will send you a warning if it finds anything suspicious. Developed with McAfee, it's free to all broadband customers and can be installed on up to 15 devices including computers, tablets and Android phones. Download BT Virus Protect.

BT Web Protect warns you of potentially harmful websites, you don't need to download it, you can activate it via My BT.

Don’t use the same password for each account 

This is always good practice, but it’s especially valuable when sharing your credit card details with websites. Setting a different password for each site will mean that if someone guesses one password, they won’t have access to your details on every site you use. Use a strong and separate password for your email as well - your email is the gateway to your online life and if compromised can be used to reset your other accounts, including shopping websites, effectively locking you out and even buying things on your account.

Don’t use obvious things like your name, town or date of birth for your password, and the longer it is the better, as it will be harder to guess. Use a variety of letters, numbers, symbols, spaces and capital letters.

One good way to choose a new password is to pick three random words and add a memorable year split between the start and the end. Capitalise random letters within it and add a couple of special characters (like ! or ?) at the end. You'll end up with a password like 19hoRseMuglockEr87?! That should be nigh-on impossible to guess.

Keep tabs on your bank account online

Online banking

Worried you’ve been charged twice for a purchase? A quick check of your online banking should put your mind at rest. Remember that transactions might take a day or two before they appear.

Know your rights

Credit card

Knowing your rights will put you in the strongest possible position to avoid any threats and solve problems if they arise. Always pay by credit card where possible, as it gives you extra protection. Any payment between £100 and £30,000 is automatically protected on your credit card thanks to laws known as Section 75. 

You should never pay by direct bank transfer, because there’s no protection if something goes wrong. It’s also easy to enter the wrong bank details and to pay the wrong person. Though this is changing – from next year, you’ll have to enter the account name as well, and if it doesn’t match the bank details, the payment won’t go through.

Read all the terms and conditions check before you buy, especially if it’s a site you haven’t used before. Some sites offer free returns, no questions asked, for example, while others make you pay to return an item and won’t accept returns in-store even if they have a high-street presence.

Concerned about a purchase? You can always report it to Action Fraud, who will investigate. Make sure you keep all evidence, including correspondence and the goods themselves. If it’s a business dispute, contact the website you bought from or try Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.

Take special care on auction sites


You should be extra vigilant on auction sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace. While both of these fight hard to stamp out fraud, less reputable sites don’t. And even if you do eventually get your money back, having a legal fight on your hands is guaranteed to put a dampener on the festive period.

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