Beginner's Guide To: Safer online shopping

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The Independent Online

New figures released last week from Financial Fraud Action UK revealed that credit and debit card fraud fell by 23 per cent in the first six months of the year. However, losses still totalled £233m and with thousands of people having had their emails hacked into last week, threats remain.

With more and more of us transacting online, what steps can you take to shop safely and minimise the chances of falling victim to fraudsters?

What are the risks?

The most obvious risk is a shadowy hacker stealing your card details, but more common problems include the seller failing to deliver or shipping faulty goods.

Common sense safety

Be sensible about where you shop and use extra caution if the seller is overseas. Find a physical address where you could contact them and don't assume a professional-looking website guarantees a trustworthy retailer.

Keep notes about what you bought, when and where – especially if you're a prolific online shopper – and always check your card receipts to make sure there's nothing unexpected.

Avoid shopping when you're on a public computer, for example in a web cafe, and remember that no bank will phone or email you requesting your full password.

Safety measures

Make sure your PC has up-to-date security software, including anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall.

Only enter card information on a secure website. There should be a padlock symbol in the bottom-right of the browser, which will show where the firm's security certificate is registered. Of course, anyone can add a padlock image to a webpage, so make sure you check the browser.

Another way to check if a website is secure is to look at its address. If it begins with "https" rather than "http" then you know the site has been certified secure.

Signing up to Verified by Visa or Mastercard SecureCode also make it harder for thieves to impersonate you online.

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