With its ease of use, vastness of choice and incredible bargains, the internet is a shopper’s paradise. So, it’s no wonder that many of us are ditching the hassle and queues of the high street to make our purchases in the comfort of our homes. The same goes for paying for cinema tickets, holidays and all sorts of services. The internet has made shopping much easier.
In fact, online payments have become so dominant that you could be forgiven for thinking that any potential security issues were ironed out by tech wizards long ago (and certainly, internet retailers are only too keen to create the impression that they are just as safe as the department store).
But the fact is that cyber criminals can be extremely devious and are always adapting their tactics. Despite increasingly sophisticated security, making payments online still carries inherent risks of fraud, financial loss and identity theft. However, the good news is that there are a number of steps that you can take to prevent this outcome (and enjoy safe and fast bargain hunting).
Here are a few top tips for paying securely online, and keeping your finances secure in general to make sure you don’t get stung whilst enjoying all that eCommerce has to offer.
Never pay by public Wi-Fi
Picture the scene — you are sitting in a café with your laptop, tablet or phone with a little bit of time to kill. You find yourself on Amazon, spot the perfect Kindle cover on sale, and decide to buy it then and there. What could possibly go wrong? The problem is that you have inputted your private password and card information onto a public Wi-Fi system that could easily be being spied upon by fraudsters. In the worst case scenario, it could actually have been set by the fraudsters themselves and given an innocent sounding name such as “Free Wi-Fi” (or, worst still, a name similar to the café that you are sitting in).
Tip: Never make purchases via public Wi-Fi systems, no matter how safe they seem. Save your online shopping for at home.
Pay using a safe method
Debit cards aren’t necessarily the best payment method for online shopping. Credit cards tend to be better as they usually offer more protection against fraud than bank cards do, so if you don’t have one, it might be worth considering it. Also, bear in mind that having a credit card doesn’t necessarily mean racking up debt — if you pay your full balance monthly, you may not even have to pay interest, so it can simply be used as a safe online shopping alternative to your debit card. Additionally, PayPal is a safe alternative to debit cards as it acts as an intermediary account that keeps your bank details private from potential fraudsters.
Tip: If you don’t have a credit card, consider getting one for online shopping or, alternatively, setting up a PayPal account. If you do have a credit card, call the provider to find out what kind of safety measures they have in place to protect you against fraud.
Protect your devices from spyware
Spyware can enter your computer, laptop and devices in all sorts of ways, from using illegal streaming sites to downloading untrustworthy software to clicking on random links. Worse still, it can easily go undetected, with fraudsters capturing your password, bank account and credit card information, then pouncing to steal money from your or hijack your identity. So it is crucial that you don’t leave any spyware doors open on your devices.
Tip: Make sure that your anti-virus and anti-spyware software is up-to-date — if you don’t have any, then install some without delay (and bear in mind that free anti-malware software may not always be as effective as paid for options). Also, avoid illegal downloading or streaming sites, be very vigilant about the kind of software you install onto your computer and avoid opening suspicious looking emails.
Research online retailers
You are searching for your dream coat online and stumble upon a new clothing site that is selling a quality design at a very reasonable price. Time to whip out the bank card? Maybe not, as there are a number of risks involved with using new, obscure or unknown online stores. At worst, it could be a completely fraudulent outfit that never sends you your item, or sends you a cheap counterfeit, or even steals your card details or password information.
Even if the retailer is genuine, there can be other pitfalls: for instance, they may not necessarily have their online payment security up to speed, they may not have decent customer protection policies or there is even a small risk that they could actually go bust before they deliver your site, leaving you empty-handed.
Tip: Before buying anything online from a new or unknown retailer, do a background check on them. For instance, go to independent review sites to get a sense of whether they are legit and reliable before parting with your cash. Also, check their customer protection and returns policies, as well as their delivery arrangements (for instance, if your item disappears in the post or if it is faulty, will they refund you?). Additionally, if you set up a shopper’s account with the site, then create a new password that you don’t use elsewhere. Just make sure that you get to know any new business before trusting it.
It is true that making payments online carries some inherent risks, but it is also very convenient and can sometimes save you money, so don’t feel that you should avoid it altogether.
Instead, always be vigilant, use common sense and make sure that all of your devices are protected. Most importantly, if something doesn’t look quite right or feel quite right and you are hesitant to make that payment, then trust your instincts, always. It is much better to double check things at the time than to find yourself a victim of fraud later down the line.