5 tips to help you stay safe when shopping online

25 Nov 2020

Image: © NaMaKuKi/Stock.adobe.com

While online shopping has skyrocketed, so have cyberattacks and scams. Here are some tips on how to stay safe when making purchases online.

Pandemic restrictions, online deals and the countdown to Christmas could create the perfect storm for scamming consumers.

A number of cybersecurity and financial experts have issued stark warnings to online shoppers about the potential dangers when shopping online as Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach.

In Ireland, the current Covid-19 restrictions mean that the majority of retail outlets are limited to online transactions, which will also increase online shopping.

In fact, almost 60pc of people have said they will do more of their Christmas shopping online this year, according to new research from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI).

As part of its FraudSmart campaign, BPFI also highlighted a number of risky behaviours to watch out for when online shopping. Brian Hayes, chief executive of BPFI, urged consumers to be extra vigilant as the organisation’s research suggests that more than 90pc of card fraud takes place online or using telephone or mail order.

“As Covid restrictions and the pre-Christmas rush draws thousands of shoppers online, we are urging all consumers to take extra precautions when shopping online this year,” he said.

So, what do consumers need to know when it comes to staying safe while shopping online?

1. Use secure websites

BPFI’s research found that more than a third (35pc) of respondents rarely or never check the security of the website on which they are shopping and 43pc rarely or never read online retailers’ terms and conditions.

When shopping online, make sure that the website address starts with ‘https’ before the purchase is made, indicating a secure connection. You should also use sites where a padlock symbol is shown beside the website address.

2. Visit websites independently

Almost 40pc of respondents in BPFI’s research said they sometimes or always click links from social media adverts rather than visiting the relevant website independently. If you see an attractive ad on social media, avoid clicking on the ad directly and instead look up the site yourself.

Consumers should also stick to websites that you are familiar with or websites associated with high-street retail outlets. If you are shopping at a site you haven’t used before, do your research first. Check for those security markers and look for other signs of legitimacy, such as a business address.

3. Avoid public Wi-Fi for purchases

A separate fraud survey from Ulster Bank found that nearly one in five (18pc) have purchased items online when using public Wi-Fi.

Consumers should never use public Wi-Fi when making payments or accessing sensitive information. Public Wi-Fi is often vulnerable to malware or ‘man in the middle’ attacks, with low security and unencrypted networks.

Always use a private, secure network when making purchases or inputting bank details or passwords. If you can’t connect to a trusted Wi-Fi, switch to 3G or 4G on your phone.

4. Beware of outrageous offers

Big discounts and sales often go up around major shopping periods such as Christmas and Black Friday. However, consumers are advised to be wary of seemingly outrageous offers or discounts. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Watch out for suspicious emails

Even if you’re not shopping, consumers should be vigilant for scams appearing in their emails. Proofpoint research suggests that 89pc of the UK’s top retailers are leaving shoppers open to email scams ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday by not implementing protection that would prevent cybercriminals from spoofing their identity.

This means that cybercriminals could pose as well-known brands and send emails to consumers that look like they come from a legitimate address, tricking people to clink on links or share personal details that could be used in a scam.

Proofpoint’s EMEA cybersecurity strategist, Matt Cooke, said: “Email continues to be the vector of choice for cybercriminals and the retail industry remains a key target.

“Consumers must be vigilant in checking the validity of all emails, especially on a day when guards are down, and attentions are focused on grabbing seasonal bargains.”

As well as being extra vigilant at this time of year, consumers should continue to exercise good password hygiene by choosing strong, unique passwords for each account and changing them regularly. Shoppers should also always read the terms and conditions of retailers before purchasing items and keep a copy of order statements and receipts.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic