How to stay safe from the latest online shopping scams

Jonathan Weinberg
Staying safe online is simple - but you have to be careful (Image: Fotolia)

Shopping online is a prime target for cyber criminals - and 'bargains' can often be scams in disguise.

On the web, information is worth money, and many cyber-scammers try to lure shoppers into revealing details - which can then be used for identity fraud.

This week is Get Safe Online Week, run by Get Safe Online to educate surfers in how to avoid the common pitfalls.

According to its own survey, the five most common threats to fall victim to are viruses, suffered by one in five of those questioned, email hackers (18%), social media account intrusions (12%), fraudulent online shopping items that never arrive (12%) and online credit card fraud (9%).

[Related: Why 'Liking' Facebook virals makes scammers rich]

And it seems the final two are growing bugbears when it comes to buying from cyberspace.

According to Equifax, a company that manages the credit account information for millions of people across the UK, nearly half of all online shoppers have regretted giving too much personal information away during an online transaction.

Nearly six in 10 of those questioned would abandon an online transaction if they thought they were being asked for too many details.

And Equifax's Neil Munroe said: "Unfortunately there have been a number of scams featuring fake websites and phishing emails that have put consumers at risk.

"Our research shows that nearly half have regretted, in hindsight, providing more information than they feel happy about. Clearly consumers should only provide personal data where they believe they can fully trust the organisation and the website – if they have any doubts, they should abandon the transaction."
But worryingly, 40% still admitted they would be happy to part with personal information for a good deal or online discount, something scammers trade off.

By offering massive bargains or deals that appear too good to be true, they are able to lure potential customers and use personal information or credit card details to copy their identity or steal money.

Mr Munroe added: "Shopping, socialising and banking online is now part of everyday life, with many of us enjoying the convenience and benefits it offers.

"But people need to protect themselves from the risks. The sophistication of online frauds and scams increases by the day, so it's vital consumers understand the value of their private information and take precautions to keep ID fraud at bay."

Tony Neate, CEO of, believes more knowledge will ensure people prevent problems occurring and that web users shouldn't feel embarrassed to ask for help.

He explained: "People shouldn't be embarrassed about experiencing an attack or needing to know more which is why we're encouraging people to 'Click & Tell' - go on to the Get Safe Online website, pick up an online safety tip and pass them on to friends, family, colleagues, neighbours or even strangers who may benefit from the advice."

10 Tips for Staying Safe on the Internet

1) Don't share passwords - whether it's for your online banking, credit cards, social networks or internet shopping accounts, never give away or write down your passwords. Always use different ones so if one is found out, it won't compromise other accounts and be sure to mix and match letters, numbers and special characters to make passwords harder to guess - or to prevent automated programs from simply working them out.

2) Look for the tell-tale signs - if an offer or deal looks too good to be true, it usually is so beware of shopping sites that make bold promises. Spelling mistakes and bad grammar are another key sign of a fraudulent shopping website while those without a Padlock icon on the transaction page or a URL beginning https:// will not be secure.

3) Research the company
- when you're purchasing online from a company you do not know, check they have full contact details including a proper office address. Look it up on Google Maps or Google Street View to ensure it exists. Of course, it could still be a scam but try and find out as much valid information as you can in order to judge for yourself.

4) Buy with a credit card
- did you know that paying with a credit card when online shopping can guarantee you some form of protection. Check with your card provider to be sure on the minimum payment required but should an item be damaged when it arrives, or if it doesn't arrive at all, you could claim the cost back from your card provider.

5) Always have up-to-date virus protection - and put a firewall in place if using a Windows-based computer. Apple's Mac machines have built-in protection and are less prone to viruses and spyware but they are not immune like many people believe. You can also now get software protection for your smartphone and tablet.

6) Beware of internet hotspots - the country is full of Wi-Fi wireless internet hotspots but not all of them will be secure. If you're out and about and considering logging on to one, beware of any that do not belong to proper shops, restaurants or bars. Even then, they may not be fully safe so you should be sure your computer has all its firewall and virus protection switched on.

7) On social networks, always spend time going through the privacy and security settings. It may take a while but having the correct ones in place can prevent strangers from seeing your posts, pictures and other personal details.

8) When downloading apps from sources other than official app stores like Google Play and iTunes, always treat them with caution. Many rogue apps can now hide malicious spyware that can monitor usage on your phone or even send messages in the background to premium rate services that could cause you a massive phone bill.

9) If you or someone you know becomes a victim of cyber-bullying, keep a record of what happens as it happens.
Seek advice from the likes Childline or BeatBullying Encourage children to talk about problems they are facing online whether to a parent or teacher.

10) Remind young people that what they post online will form a digital footprint for their future that may be looked at by potential employers, universities or colleges. If you have any concerns about the safety of a young person on the internet or come across abusive or sexual images of those under 18, report it to the police or confidentially using the hotline of the Internet Watch Foundation