If you prefer to avoid busy shopping centres, queues, noise and stress, online shopping is the obvious answer. You can grab bargains without even leaving the sofa. But it pays to take precautions. Security Expert Janus R. Nielsen from www.mysecuritycenter.com and PC Advisor staff offer 10 top tips on how to shop safely online.
1: Avoid clicking on links in emails when you want to visit a shop. Type the website address manually into the browser's address bar (or use a bookmark you created yourself), so you are sure that you will not be routed to a fake shop through a phishing link.
2: Look for the padlock icon in the browser and check that the URL (the website's address) starts with HTTPS (S stands for secure) to make sure the site is safe to visit. Bear in mind that the site may switch to HTTPS only when you begin the payment process. Look also for other logos that indicate the site has a secure payment provider and that all payment details are encrypted.
3: Look for the web shop’s contact information. Who runs the store and is it based in the UK? Is there a phone number, address, email address, etc.? In many fake online stores this information is non-existent, and if you cannot find it you should be wary.
4: Take some time to compare prices before buying a product. Use Kelkoo.co.uk or Pricerunner.co.uk to ensure that you're getting a good price. Just because the site claims to offer 50 percent off the RRP doesn't mean it's the cheapest around.
5: Save all receipts, order confirmations and other information in your email inbox or print them out. The more documentation you have on your purchase, the better you are placed if something goes wrong, such as the item not arriving, or arriving damaged.
6: Read the terms and conditions carefully. How long is the delivery time? Is it easy to return an item? Is VAT included, and is there an additional cost for shipping, which makes your purchase much more expensive than you had expected? Some price comparison sites - particularly Google Shopping - don't check that the total price includes everything, so you may have to visit several sites to find the best price.
7: When you pay via your credit card online, you should consider using an additional security code, such as Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode. With these schemes (which you must sign up for), you must enter a special code or certain letters from a password before the payment can be completed. This helps protect you if criminals steal your wallet, or your card details are somehow stolen online.
8: Make sure that you have an up-to-date antivirus and firewall program installed before you go shopping online.
9: Remember that you're protected under the Sale of Goods Act and Distance Selling Regulations (see What are my consumer rights?) when you buy from UK-based websites. Foreign web shops may provide different protection or guarantees. Again, check the conditions before you pay. Normally, however, you always have the right to get your money back if you pay with a credit card and there's a problem with your purchase.
10: Last but not least: in the final throws of the January sales, discounts are often high. However, be suspicious if a web shop promises 80 percent off expensive brands such as Ralph Lauren, Canada Goose, Prada, etc. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably also is, says Janus R. Nielsen.