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How to stay safe when shopping online

Ensure your personal details don't fall into the hands of scammers

Online shopping across Europe in the eight weeks to Christmas looks set to hit €52bn (£44.98bn). According to the predictions from the IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group), the UK will be responsible for 30 percent of this, with some £3.72bn alone being spent in the first two weeks of December.

With more and more Brits heading online to bag a bargain, scammers and cybercriminals are subsequently turning their attentions to the web, in a bid to steal money and personal details from unsuspecting victims.

However, before you reach for your wallet, there's a few simple steps you should take to ensure you remain safe when buying online.

To begin with, it's worth checking out the retailer you plan to buy from. Even if you're using a well known brand, use Web Of Trust or another authenticity checker to confirm the site really does belong to the retailer in question and is not part of a phishing scam designed to obtain your credit card details.

Next, if you're using a smaller online retailer you've never heard of before, Lesley Cowley, chief executive of Nominet, says it pays to "take a few minutes to search for the company on the internet and check their reputation".

"Look for a telephone number for the company. Ring it and check it works if you have any concerns," said Cowley. Telephone numbers, providing they're genuine and in use, are a good sign, email addresses and the lack of a postal address should set alarm bells ringing.

Scour the site and look for suspicious URLs, misspellings and urgent requests for banking or personal information, as these could be a sign of a phishing site.

Cowley also warned users not to assume a company is based in the UK because it has a .uk web address.

"Visit the Nominet WHOIS site to check where the website is registered. If the company is based outside the UK you might have to pay import tax on any goods you purchase," she said.

Likewise, just because a website claims it is an official reseller of brand-name goods, it may not be. Users should visit the brand's website to check the reseller is legitimate. She cited GHD, a company that manufacturers hair straighteners, as a good example. It has a dedicated section on its official web site that allows web users to input a retailer's URL and check if they are selling genuine products.

"Trust your common sense and if necessary buy elsewhere," she added.

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