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Shopping Online In The January Sales: Are You Prepared?

15th January 2015 | Cyber Aware
Shopping Online In The January Sales: Are You Prepared?

Guest Post by Cath Goulding, Head of IT Security at Nominet

As we are in the midst of January sales and increasing levels of discounting, we all need to make sure we shop safely online but how do we go about doing this?  It’s simpler than you might think. 

When it comes to surfing the web, you need to be careful with three things: clicking, filling and downloading.  Don’t click links or pop-ups you’re unsure about, don’t fill information into forms on unknown websites and certainly don’t download software from untrusted sources - you never know what it could contain or where it could be going, your information is extremely valuable to cyber-criminals.

You may not know it, but most of the software you use is already protecting you; all the major web browsers have defences built-in to keep you safe.  Chances are you already have an antivirus program installed on your machine too. If you do, you should always have it activated and if you don’t, many banks now offer free software if you’re signed up for their online banking. It’s also worth remembering that all devices should have anti-virus installed, not just your desktop or laptop.

Whether you’re buying or selling online, your browser is your window to the internet so make sure it’s secure.  Firstly, keep it up-to-date; it takes no time to do and could make a real difference.  Modern browsers have pop-up blockers enabled by default to keep those bothersome adverts away (which could deliver malware if clicked).  In fact, your browser is equipped with a whole host of features designed to protect you, if you see a warning message about something, you should trust it and move on.

It’s always best to use a major site which will use ‘https://’, this means they protect the information you send across their website.  It’s easy to spot too, just look for ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address and a little green padlock at the top of your browser. Most legitimate sites also have a trust mark in the bottom of the screen, often provided by security firms like Norton or Symantec. These are a good indicator that a website is safe to buy from.

What about fraudulent goods though?  And how to spot them?  If a designer handbag which is £500 in most retailers is selling for only £250 it may seem like a bargain right?  Not necessarily.  Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.  Look for reviews of the website which will often offer clues as to a site’s credentials. Check who you are buying from and where the goods are coming from.  Websites like eBay and Amazon provide feedback on their sellers, which is a great way of determining their authenticity.  If you need to contact them for any reason, do so through the website platform so there’s always a record.

It’s worth bearing in mind that paying with a credit card is often a good idea when shopping online as it comes with increased fraud protection to safeguard you against unauthorised payments.  Card providers often offer additional payment protection such as Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode.  Services like PayPal are also a good alternative.

Finally, and most importantly, log out of the website afterwards!  This is particularly important if several people use your machine. Always log out and close the browser.

Shopping online is sometimes the easiest and most simple way to find the best deals, like many things in life; we just need to make sure we do it safely.