We’re shopping online more than ever before. According to Forbes magazine, at the end of 2013, e-commerce transactions will add up to an incredible one trillion dollars. And as more money moves around cyberspace, cyberfraud is increasing by the day.
Cyberfraud economic losses from 2001 to 2012 (source)
In a report from CyberSource (VISA), $3.5 billion were lost in 2012 in North America alone. Another report, from JP Morgan, concludes that “there are no signs that the growth of cybercrime is slowing”.
The fine line between fraud and overconfidence
Pharming: The attacker modifies (“poisons”) the address servers (1) so that when the user loads a page (2), a fake version appears instead of the genuine website (3)
But scams aren’t the only way money is lost. Transaction errors and ads that exaggerate the quality of products are also guilty.
Six tips for buying online with confidence
Whether due to the poor design of an online store or the existence of con artists, the risk of losing money is real. Luckily, browsers and websites have greatly improved their safety and reliability.
Rather than overwhelm you with an endless list of recommendations, or advice that’s difficult to implement, we’re going to give you six essential tricks that we believe will keep you safe in most cases.
1. Always pay through PayPal or Google Wallet
Pay by PayPal, Google Wallet or other services where you don’t need to enter your bank details every time. In addition, both PayPal and Google Wallet have sophisticated anti-fraud controls, and can help you reclaim your money in case of fraud.
PayPal acts as a payment intermediary, protecting your safety (source)
Regardless of how you pay, we recommend that you get a secondary cash or debit card and use it for your online purchases. It’s not a good idea to use your primary card for online shopping.
2. Investigate the reputation of the online store
If its your first time buying from a given website, spend some time researching their reputation. Google their name and look at their reputation on WoT and SafeWeb, two services that check the safety of websites.
Another good tip is to look at the bottom of the page to see where the company is located and what certificates they have.
When you first enter an online store, look for the following:
- “Real life” contact details (address, phone number)
- Support page with frequently asked questions
- Links to information about the company
- Purchase guarantees and legal conditions
- Electronic commerce certification seals (VeriSign, TRUSTe, etc.)
The presence of these certificates is a good sign, but click on them to be sure of their authenticity. Some scammers put them in without valid links backing them up!
3. Use a modern browser….and make sure it’s updated!
When it comes to avoiding scams, a good updated browser gives you more security than an antivirus. Google Chrome, for example, is able to detect malicious pages, as can Internet Explorer 11 (SmartScreen) and Mozilla Firefox. If you’re using mobile applications to make your purchases, make sure they’re not fake apps. Finally, whenever possible, make sure that the page where you enter payment details has a lock symbol before the address (HTTPS) – this tells you that it’s safe.
In general, you should always look at the web address of the store you’re using. If it looks unusual or suspicious, don’t continue! Most browsers will give you extra information by clicking on the lock icon.
4. Always buy from a secure network
When you’re shopping, try to connect from home and from devices that you trust, using your programs, your antivirus and your favorite browser. Public networks are full of shady characters who are on the lookout for data to steal.
That being said, don’t take it for granted that your home network is safe. Boost your Wifi security, install a good free antivirus and keep receipts and bank details in a password manager with encryption, such as Dashlane – a very well designed password and personal data manager.
5. Compare prices and conditions of sale
Are you sure it’s a bargain? Compare prices and condition – on Google Shopping, for example – and read reviews on the product sheet, especially the negative ones: these could give you clues about the reliability of the page.
Stores that appear in Google Shopping are generally reliable
Comparing prices and conditions is always a good habit to get into when you’re shopping, and the internet makes this really easy to do. But be careful, even on the comparison sites, because prices can be out of date and sometimes don’t reflect additional costs.
6. Never click on suspicious links
As we said in our article on suspicious emails, if you didn’t request it, don’t click it! It’s a simple rule of thumb that means you can avoid unpleasant surprises, like phishing (data theft).
This is not Amazon.co.uk! Always check if addresses look like they should.
An online store will contact you to provide receipts or invoices, but will never request that you enter passwords or bank details via an email or text message. Those details must be requested from the actual site. This is also true for social networking sites.
A final piece of advice: use common sense and read!
If it seems too good to be true, be suspicious. If the page doesn’t look as professional as you expected, be suspicious. If something, anything, that you see sparks any doubt in your mind, be suspicious. It could be a hoax. When in doubt, it’s better to stop and investigate. Read, read and read – it’s the “Stop. Think. Connect” principle. And just to cover your back, it’s best to save everything – from emails and receipts to screenshots: one day these could serve as important evidence.