Online shopping – Secure or Not sure?

Shopping online can be the best way to secure a bargain.  No parking fees, no queueing or waiting for opening time.  The younger generations don’t hesitate to buy online at sites like Amazon and eBay.  Inputting their card details or paying with services such as PayPal. However, many older people still show healthy scepticism toward online shopping, worried about giving away bank or credit card details online.

We decided to take a fresh look at the issues and ask ‘Is online shopping safe and secure?’

 

Our perspective on risk

Shopping online will probably never be 100% safe, so we thought it would be good to start by putting the risk into some context.

The average british woman carries over £2,000 worth of items in their handbag. Some are even prepared to spend up to £1000 on the actual handbag itself, but even the contents soon add up if – like most people – it contains cash, sunglasses, mobile phone, perfume, make-up, travel documents, identity cards and irreplaceable items such as treasured photos of family members, inherited jewellery and other sentimental items.

So, if you go to the shopping centre and leave you bag behind at the cafe, in the changing rooms – or worse have it stolen – you will be spending the rest of the day at the Police Station, Lost Property, cancelling credit cards, blocking telephone and you will probably  be left very upset by the whole experience.

The probability is that 1 in 5 women will have their handbag stolen at some point in their life. Men do not tend to run this risk, but they are just as prone to loose wallets full of cash.  The latest Home Office Statistics on crime show that over 1 in 100 people have items such as handbags, wallets, phones and other valuable items stolen each year.

In the United States, the IC3 (Internet Crime Complaints Centre)  has been compiling online crime data for a number of years.  Last year, just over 1 in 100 people reported an online related crime.  These figures include identity theft as well as fraud using illegally obtained payment details from online shoppers.  Unfortunately the Home Office do not yet provide similar figures, but this 1 in 100 figures is probably comparable to the UK.

So, the risk of having your money stolen online is about the same as having your handbag, wallet or phone stolen.  If it happens, you only have the hassle of dealing with one bank or credit car company.  Also, as long as you have not been unduly careless with your security details, your credit card provider or bank will probably cover your loss.

 

So, shopping online is probably no more risky than going to the shops in person

Of course there are lot’s of good reasons for continuing to shop in person and we are not trying to suggest you should stay home and only shop online in the future.  However, we hope you can see that the risk of online theft is no more likely than loosing your handbag or wallet.

 

Make sure you are not that 1 person in 100!

  • Try to only shop at reputable online shopping sites for brand names you have heard of.
  • If you do not know the web address for the shop you want, search for it using popular search engines like Google, Bing, Ask and Yahoo.
  • Look for signs the payment pages on the website are secured.  Only put in your credit card, bank or any personal details if the web address starts https:// rather than the normal http://  The ‘S’ means secure.  Your browser may also show a Padlock icon by the address bar and in most modern browsers the website address will show in green if a strong level of security is in place.
  • Online retailers do NOT need to know your cards PIN number, so never give this out on line.  However, they most likely will ask for the security code on the back of your card, by the signature strip.  This is know as the CSC (Card Security Code) but may also be referred to as the card verification value (CVV).
  • Some banks card issuers now request that the shopping website links you to their own online security web page to ask for an online shopping password before allowing you to complete payment, so do not worry if this happens.
  • Make sure your PC is running the latest security software to stop Viruses and SpyWare.  Most good packages will now warn you if the website you are on is not to be trusted.  Using an Apple computer or device will mean you are less likely to have a virus or spyware on your PC, but nothing is 100% safe.
  • Always be on your guard.  If it doesn’t feel right or you are not sure – close down the browser and shop at another website.
  • NEVER store your PIN, Security Codes, Passwords or similar information on your computer.  There are software programs that can store passwords in a secure way, but if you are unfamiliar or unsure – just do not put them on your computer.
  • NEVER email your payment details to anyone.  This would be the online equivalent of writing your card payment details on a postcard to someone in Australia – where anyone involved in the delivery process could copy them down for fraudulent use.

First time caller

The fist time you shop online and it is a significant sum, your Credit Card company may call you to ensure you are really making the purchase and that your card has not been stolen.  This is quite normal and does not mean the website is unsafe.
Banks and Credit card companies keep a check on your spending habits and if you do something unusual – such as shop online for the first time – they are likely to check all is well.  Yes, it can be annoying but it is for both their protection and yours. Calling to inform your card provider before making the purchase can help.

And finally – tip from the editor

Never type all your credit card or password details into a website at once or in the correct order.

The type of spyware that captures your payment details might be hiding on your computer, monitoring you as you type in your password, credit card number, etc and recording all the details.  Others may take a secret picture of the web page without you knowing so they see what you have typed in, or they may be intercepting your payment data as it is passed to the card provider.

As an additional precaution, I type in values such as card number, bank account,  password, security code a few characters at a time, moving around the web page completing a bit more information each time until all the numbers or letters are input.  Often I will add extra numbers to the card or password as I type them in, only to highlight the characters I don’t need with the mouse and delete them before hitting the enter or confirm key.

Happy – and secure – Shopping!

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