As this year’s Black Friday shopping event draws near, here are some key tips for staying safe online when hunting for a bargain.
With more of us shopping from the comfort and safety of our homes due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Black Friday event is likely to be the biggest ever for online orders.
As many as 77% of UK adults are planning to bag a bargain during next month’s deals bonanza, according to our research.
So before you start browsing, here are some simple tips to keep yourself safe and avoid fraudsters when shopping online.
When you shop online or share your personal details, make sure you’re using a website where the characters ‘https://’ appear before the site’s domain name. This tells you that other web users cannot spy on your personal details.
This is particularly important if you’re giving a website your bank details or credit card information. If you visit a website that asks you for personal information or login details without taking you to a https:// connection, leave immediately.
When you visit a secure connection online, you should see a padlock symbol next to the website address to indicate you are logged on to a secure connection.
You should also look for the padlock symbol next to the URL. This indicates that the site is secure and cannot be intercepted.
Alternatively, if the address bar goes green and you see the words ‘Verified Company [US]’ then that’s also an indication that the site’s secure.
If you see a warning symbol in the address bar and the words ‘Not Secure’ this means there’s an issue with the site’s security. This is a sign that you should be careful about proceeding with that particular website.
Note: These are all signs that a website is secure. It is not a guarantee that the retailer is always honest!
Legitimate online retailers should allow you to pay by debit or credit card. You may also be offered the ability to pay using a known, reliable online like PayPal.
PayPal can be a good option as scammers will not be able to get hold of your bank details.
Be wary if your only payment options at checkout do not include any of these payment methods.
Read our guide on how to choose the best credit card for your needs.
There are a number of things you can do to check if the website you’re thinking of buying from is a genuine online retailer. Sadly, we’ve heard too many stories of punters paying for goods, only to discover that the site they used was a scam.
Here are some quick ways to check if a site you’re visiting is above board:
The URL is the address you see in the address bar at the top of your browser. Paying attention to this is crucial.
The most important part is the bit between the first double slashes and the first single slash.
If this references a well-known product but isn’t the official website, that should ring alarm bells. For example, a domain like ‘iphonedeals.net’ clearly is not the official Apple website.
Websites that end in ‘.net’ or ‘.org’ aren’t usually used for online shopping and ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ are much more common. You could also run the URL through Google’s Safe Browsing Transparency Report to see whether that website is safe.
Full details on how to check that a website is legitimate.
Before you enter your card details at checkout, have a quick look to see if previous customers have left an online review of their shopping experience.
There are a range of popular review websites that share user experiences, both about the quality of customer service and products. Users may also post reviews warning against scams.
If you see a large number of negative reviews, think very carefully about parting with your cash.
If you’re using an online marketplace like eBay or Etsy, it’s easy to check how customers have previously rated the seller you are looking to buy from.
Read our guide on how to stay safe when using online marketplaces
Have a good look around the website, paying attention to how it’s written. Are there:
If it doesn’t read well, it’s likely to be a scam website. Few reputable websites would ever go live without being checked.
If you see lots of errors, it’s likely it’s been put together in a hurry by someone looking to make a quick buck.
Also check the ‘contact us’ page. If the only way to contact them is through a form, you’d be right to feel suspicious.
If you spent more than £100 on your credit card, whether online or in-store, then you’re automatically protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means you can speak to your credit card company about getting a refund if you run into a problem with your purchase that has not been dealt with well by the retailer. Section 75 is designed to protect you in the event of one of the following situations:
Breach of contract: You do not get what you have paid for, or not to the standard specified. For example, an item you buy does not get delivered, or it is not in the condition described when purchasing.
Misrepresentation: You are given the wrong information, which convinces you to pay for a product. For example, you buy an expensive pair of headphones after being misinformed that they would be compatible with your music player.
You cannot make a claim to your credit card company for a refund under any other situation, such as changing your mind. It’s always a good idea to approach the retailer with any problems first to see if they can solve them. Full details on how you can use Section 75.
If you paid for your purchases using a debit card and then encounter problems, you might also be able to get help from your current account provider.
You can do this by making a Chargeback claim. Chargeback is a scheme offered by debit, prepaid or credit card providers.
It means you can get a refund if something goes wrong when you spend on your card.
You can get your money back through your bank or building society (if you’re part of a Chargeback debit card scheme), your credit card provider, or your prepaid card provider.
You can use Chargeback to get your money back if:
A purchase doesn’t arrive
A service you’ve paid for isn’t provided
Something you’ve bought is faulty
The company you buy from goes bust and you can’t get money back from them
The goods or services you’ve paid for aren’t as described or are in an unsatisfactory condition
You’re charged more than agreed for a purchase, or are charged more than once
Your card is used fraudulently.
It's important to note, you can only make a Chargeback claim if you’ve gone to the retailer first to request a refund from them and they refuse. Unlike Section 75, chargeback can offer protection regardless of the amount you spend on your card. If your card provider accepts your chargeback claim they will reverse the transaction you’ve made. Instead of going to the supplier or retailer, they go to the supplier or retailer’s bank. This also means that the money can still sometimes be recovered even if the supplier has gone bust.
It’s worth noting that chargeback is a voluntary scheme adopted by banks, rather than a legal protection, like Section 75. So sadly there is no guarantee that you’ll get your money back in the event of a problem.
When you shop online, it’s vital that you understand what your consumer rights are in case you want to return your purchase.
How do you know when you can return an item? What if there is a problem with the item or you’ve simply changed your mind?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out refund rights for consumers. These include:
You have 30 days to return faulty goods and receive a full refund (whether you bought online or in-store)
You’re entitled to ask for a refund or price reduction after one failed attempt by the retailer to repair or replace a faulty item. Or you can request another repair or price reduction at no extra cost
No deductions can be made from a refund within the first six months after purchase, except for motor vehicles
If you cannot find information about a company’s returns policy on their website, you should be wary. Understanding a company’s returns policy is important and it will help you if something is not delivered or is damaged when it arrives.
Thankfully, when you shop online you also benefit from another legal protection. If you buy online you get 14 days to cancel your order and get a full refund from the retailer, including the cost of delivery.
So if you change your mind for any reason you can request a refund. If you buy an item in a bricks and mortar shop, you have no automatic right to a refund if you change your mind.
Therefore, if you’re not 100% sure that you’re going to like what you’ve bought, it’s best to make the purchase online.
It’s also worth noting that if you want to return an item bought online you need to speak to the retailer, not the manufacturer, because it is their responsibility to give you a refund.
Avoid doing any online shopping using public Wi-Fi in places like coffee shops, bars and pubs. Public Wi-Fi is often unsecure, so information you send could be accessed by fraudsters.
Your smartphone’s 4G data will be more secure, so if you fancy hunting for a Black Friday bargain on the move, use that instead.
Whether on smartphone or computer, make sure your apps are up to date. This is because updates can contain vital fixes to ensure you’re better protected from scammers.
It probably is!