With more and more Brits heading online to bag a bargain, scammers and cybercriminals are turning their attentions to the web, in a bid to steal money and personal details from unsuspecting victims. Before you reach for your wallet, follow these simple steps to ensure you remain safe when buying online.
At the checkout
Meanwhile, Jon Callas, CTO of security solutions firm Entrust, warned web users not to let their guard down when they hit the online checkout. According to Callas, online shoppers need to look out for several things before inputting their credit or debit card details into a website.
"If the site has an EV (extended validation) certificate the address bar will be green and the business name will be readily visible," he said. This means that the site has met a specific set of security guidelines which are independently verified, and that the site can be trusted.
Secure Sockets Layers (SSL) are used to ensure data is encrypted before being transmitted across the web and also indicate an organisation has been verified. Callas says potential purchasers should keep an eye out for https in the address bar rather than just the standard http, as this highlights a site uses SSL.
You should also look out for the padlock within your browser, which is one of the main security features of basic SSL.
"Depending on what browser you use, it might be on the address bar or somewhere else like the title bar. But if you click on it, you will see security information about the site you're on," he said.
Furthermore, respectable organisations will display the site seal of their SSL certificate provider either on their home page or during the checkout process. He also recommends clicking on the site seal to ensure it's legitimate. You should also verify that the date and name of the organisation are consistent with the site you're visiting.
Those using public Wi-Fi, especially if it's unsecured, need to be extra careful as "you never know who could be listening", according to Callas.
"Double-check that there's SSL, and that the certification is good. Be extra, extra careful on a public computer; don't do anything financial or involving a password unless you must, as these are easily riddled with malware."
The benefit of credit cards
It's worth using a credit card to pay for goods with a value over £100, as the credit-card company is insured against rogue retailers. You can claim back money from your credit-card issuer if a product you've paid for fails to materialise. Moves are afoot to extend this protection to debit-card transactions, too.
Most online retailers will require the three-digit Card Verification Value (CVV or CV2) number from the back of your credit card. If they don't, think twice about completing the purchase, advises Callas.
Finally, when you've finished the purchase, make sure you log out of the site. "This may seem obvious, but log out of any web session that stores personal account or banking information. This is critical if using a public computer," he said.
It's not over once the transaction's complete
Callas suggested purchasers pay close attention to their bank account's activities once the transaction is complete.
"While it's always good practice to keep an eye on your banking account throughout the year, take a closer look after purchasing products or carrying out any transactions online. If your identity or account has been compromised, you may be able to limit fraud loss if it's caught early."
And if the worst has happened and you've be scammed, Cowley says report the incident immediately.
"Call your local trading standards office, report the incident and ask for their best advice on how to deal with the situation."