The Christmas shopping season starts in earnest on Black Friday this week. At this time of year it’s more important than ever to stay safe online – are you shopping securely?
I try to avoid doing anything about Christmas until after my birthday, which is at the beginning of December, but it’s hard to ignore with decorations going up and the increasing clamour of adverts everywhere urging us to get on with our shopping and planning.
Black Friday is looming and retailers hope that the price cuts on offer will encourage all of us to break out the plastic and start shopping.
Like many, I do as much of my Christmas shopping online as possible – but it’s also a busy time of year for those whose intentions are less honourable. Scammers and hackers love the busy end-of-year shopping season, so I take extra care as I’m looking for gifts for my family.
We gathered a collection of tips to help you stay safe as you shop online for the December issue of Which? Computing, offering advice that ranges how to look after your passwords, how to check how long a website has been online and how to spot a phishing scam.
Be alert to the padlock
My top tip for online shopping is to be alert to the padlock icon on websites. We’ve all learned to look out for it as a confirmation that the site is ‘secure’, but many people don’t realise what that actually means.
The padlock means that all the pages on the website use https to connect – in other words, that the data you exchange with the site is encrypted, including not only your login and password, and your payment and address information, but also your ordinary browsing.
It’s important to know if a website is properly encrypted, but it’s also important to remember that the padlock doesn’t guarantee that the shop is legitimate. It doesn’t guarantee that your order will turn up, or that you’ll get what you’ve ordered rather than a cheap fake.
Hackers and scammers can and do set up properly encrypted websites – it’s straightforward to do and it helps convince their victims that they’re on a safe website when of course it’s nothing of the kind.
We’ve written more about https and the padlock on our Helpdesk website. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the padlock icon!
How do you stay safe when you’re shopping online – have you got any top tips for staying safe – or indeed for getting the best bargains? Do you worry about using your cards online, and have you been a victim of a scam?
Or are you one of the brave folk who wrap up warm and head out to the High Street? Let us know what your safer shopping strategies are in the comments.