Shop Safely: Consumer Advice for Online Shopping

The internet has transformed the way we go shopping, offering convenient access to a huge range of goods & services, the ability to compare prices between competitors and all from the comfort of our own home, or indeed whilst we're on the move.

With this though comes a new set of potential pitfalls and hazards waiting to catch out the unaware shopper, so if you're a newcomer to internet shopping take the time to be informed and enjoy secure shopping online, with minimal risk that things will go wrong.

Before You Purchase..

Protect Your Computer

Make sure that you have up to date antivirus software installed on your computer, as well as a secure firewall in place. You should also be sure that your browser, typically Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, is current, old versions may have security flaws. If these terms are unfamiliar to you then talk to someone who does understand and can help you secure your computer - before you go online. Laptops, tablet computers, desktop PC's and mobile phones all need to be secured by similar means.

Bogus Websites - Be Streetwise

All of the shops listed in this directory have been individually chosen and checked before listing, so you're very unlikely to become a victim of direct fraud by using them. But for your own security learn the importance of the address bar, usually located near the top of your screen, this displays the address of the website page you are currently browsing.

Bogus websites often rely on you not being attentive to the address bar and may use a website address and appearance which is very similar to the site you think you are on. For example, the address bar for a legitimate site may read as: http://www.famousbrand.co.uk/.., but the bogus site may read as; http://www.famousbland.co.uk/.., or, the legitimate website may use: http://www.brandx.co.uk/.. and the bogus site may read as: http://www.brandxshoes.co.uk/.. This tactic is also used within scam emails, so check the address carefully if in doubt, before clicking.

For more tips and information visit the Know The Net website, and protect yourself by being more "streetwise" online. The Know The Net website is published by Nominet, who are responsible for controlling all of the web addresses ending in .uk.

Trusted Shops Programs

There are numerous trusted shop schemes in use on the internet, designed to re-assure shoppers that the website displaying their symbol or logo is operated in a safe and secure manner, to standards laid down by each scheme. They will most likely be a legitimate attempt by the retailer to re-assure you that they are protecting your online safety, but they do not in themselves guarantee that you are secure. Bogus websites will often display this type of logo in order to look more legitimate.

Know Your Rights

In addition to avoiding the risk of fraud you should always make yourself aware of your consumer rights for the times when a purchase does not meet your expectations, or products arrive damaged, or incorrect, so that you can resolve things satisfactorily.

Online consumers in the UK are protected under the Sale of Goods act and the Distance Selling Regulations, which combined offer a good level of protection. Your online consumer rights are generally stronger than when you shop in-store. We recommend that you visit the Citizens Advice website for up to date information on consumer rights.

Contact Details

Websites should carry sufficient contact information for you to be able to get in touch, whether by email, either directly or via an enquiry form on their site, by phone or by letter. Online shops may not have a real-world presence for you to visit, but it's equally important that they display a full address. If a shop fails to display this type of information then it may be best to shop elsewhere.

Returns Policy

Review the returns policy of any website you are shopping from, particularly for high value or large items, as the return postage may have to be paid for if the error was yours. If in any doubt then contact the retailer before purchase to clarify your concerns.

Privacy Policy

If you value your privacy and are wary of being bombarded with marketing material after your purchase, then you should be sure to review the privacy policy of shops you use and check how they will use any data they hold on you. When you make a purchase be sure to look out for the small tick boxes during checkout that will provide you with the choice to either "opt in" or "opt out" of receiving this material. Read the wording carefully as currently shops can use either approach.

Secure Payments - https://

Shops  will need to ask you to enter your payment details. For this process to be secure your card details must be encrypted before they are sent and to do this payments are transmitted using https:// rather than the more familiar http://. Before submitting your payment check the address window, usually near the top of your screen, to see that the address starts with https://... Check the order details carefully before submitting payment details.

Many shops use a two stage payment process to verify your card details. In this case after submitting your card details you will then be asked to enter and submit some characters from your chosen password. You will then be returned to the original shop website.

Storing Your Data

Some online shops will offer you the chance to store your name, address & card details to make it easier to complete their checkout on a return visit. Name and address will be required if you choose to create an account, rather than completing checkout as a guest, but payment details, if stored, will present an increased security risk to yourself and we don't recommend it. If a shop does store your payment details then they must be encrypted; ask them if you're unsure.

Passwords

Passwords are a problem of the internet age, as we're required to use them in so many locations, and yet we are always advised (wisely) not to use the same one in multiple locations or to record them. If you do choose to record your passwords do so in a secure way, for example, use your own "system" such as reversing every other character, but never write the full password down, only write the first and last characters, enough to remind you. Remember too that you can always use the "Password Reminder" service on a website, as and when you need it.

Do not disclose passwords over the phone or by email, if a retailer, or your bank, needs this information to confirm who you are, they should only ask for a few characters, never the full password.

Public computers & Wi Fi connections

It's not advisable to provide sensitive information on publically accessible computers, such as in a library or internet cafe. If you do need to do this then be sure to "log out" of any websites you have used, rather than just closing the browser. Public wi-fi connections should not be assumed to be secure, whatever type of device you are using to connect with, and should be treated with caution. It may be better to wait until you get home before completing that purchase, when you're in a known environment.

After You Purchase

Keep the Receipt

Whenever you make a purchase online you should receive an email confirming the goods ordered, the amount paid, the order number, as well as other supporting information, such as how to contact the retailer. This is your receipt, it's important, so keep it where you can find it, and if necessary print it out. As a last resort you may be able to access previous order details by logging in to your account at the shop where you made the purchase (if you can remember which one!).

Without your receipt your position is weakened if there are problems and it makes your case harder for a retailer to resolve. It will also be useful for any warranty claim at a later date. Check your bank statements to ensure the amount taken is the same as your receipt.

Resolving Problems

When there's a problem with an order then in the first instance contact the retailer, having first made sure you're familiar with their returns policy. Do not return any goods without contacting the shop first. If you do contact them by phone then follow it up with an email so that you have a record of the resolution process. The majority of problems can be resolved amicably, be reasonable and the retailer will probably work with you to resolve problems within the terms and conditions you agreed to. In a few cases retailers do fail to understand their obligations to you the consumer, so be aware of your rights and politely insist on them if necessary. In cases where disputes cannot be resolved then we would recommend contacting Citizens Advice.

Reporting Fraud

If the goods never arrived and you're unable to contact the retailer then you may have been the victim of fraud. In which case contact Action Fraud, with details of your purchase to hand.