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How to stay safe while shopping online

Tackle hackers, phishers and other no-good cybermerchants

Shopping online has become almost as commonplace as walking into a shop on the high street. I remember making my first order from Amazon in late 1998 and being quite thrilled by the sheer convenience of it. Nowadays, even our local bookshop sells specialist books from its own website.

But today’s online consumers have an extra concern: the increasing risk of card-not-present fraud, which now accounts for half of all credit-card crime, according to Apacs, the UK payments association. Crooks get hold of your card details through a card-skimming device or by raiding your bins, then start spending – usually online.

Phishing emails are another danger, duping punters into disclosing their details. They think they’ve clicked through to a genuine e-commerce site, when it’s actually a dodgy dealer’s domain.

So how can you protect yourself online? We’ve outlined some of the precautions that you should be taking here, but a touch of common sense wouldn’t go amiss either. Stay safe by following the same procedures that you would if you bought something by mail order.

If a site feels dodgy, trust your instincts. Don’t be pressured into completing a transaction or be swayed by too-good-to-be-true prices.

If you’re buying from an auction site such as eBay, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before you bid. There’s plenty of advice available online, and it never hurts to read the FAQs – twice.

Take care of the mundane details, too: ensure that your goods can be safely delivered and inspect your purchase as soon as possible. This way, any problems can be dealt with in a timely fashion.

1. Internet Explorer’s AutoComplete feature can be handy, but it isn’t great for combating online fraudsters. Stop it auto-entering your password via Tools, Internet Options, Content, AutoComplete Settings. Deselect ‘User names and passwords on forms’ and ‘Prompt me to save passwords’.

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