11:58 13 November 2012
There are now just six weeks until Christmas, and millions of Britons are logging on to save both money and time by doing their festive shopping online.
However, while the majority of internet purchases go smoothly, cyberspace is awash with sneaky traps designed to ensure that unscrupulous retailers and downright criminals enjoy a merrier Christmas - funded by your cash.
That's why we are highlighting five of the top traps to be wary of when starting your online Christmas shop this year.
1. Making a payment that's insecure
When you do part with cash online, make sure it's going to the place you think it is. Did you know for example, that hackers can tap into wi-fi connections at hotspots, such as coffee shops, airports and hotels, to capture your personal information? It's a good idea to avoid doing your online shopping or banking in locations of this kind.
Even in the confines of your own home, check that the website you are buying from has an address beginning https: rather than just http:. The "s" stands for secure and is there to protect you.
You should also see a padlock symbol in the bottom of your browser which, if you double-click on, will reveal a digital certificate that confirms that the website is what it says it is. Make sure you do.
If you have any concerns about a retailer, it is also sensible to check that it has a working contact number and is referred to favourably on online forums.
Finally, remember to log out of all websites properly, particularly if you are using a shared computer.
2. Using weak or the same passwords
To make a purchase, some larger retailers will ask you to set up an account for which you will need a password.
Secure payment systems such as Verified by Visa also require a password, certain characters of which you will need to enter to make most online purchases.
In both cases, it is a good idea to go for a password that includes a mixture of letters, symbols and numbers, and avoid using the same one for everything.
And it goes without saying, you should change your password immediately if you have reason to believe that someone else has found it out.
3. Buying things you didn't intend to
Retargeting is a form of online advertising that targets consumers based on their previous actions, for example when they have visited a website without making a purchase.
It works by marking or tagging online users who visit a certain brand website with a pixel or cookie, and then targeting that person with banner adverts.
In its most basic form, retargeting sends company adverts to those who previously visited its site more frequently.
However, there is also a more personalised form that retargets consumers with adverts relating to the specific products they looked at while on the site.
Retargeting can actually prove a handy tool when shopping online but one that is also good to be aware of so you can avoid the temptation of buying items that you do not really want or need.
4. Using your debit card to make large purchases
When shopping online, it makes sense to pay by credit card, rather than debit card, especially for larger purchases.
This is because, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card providers, unlike debit card providers, are jointly liable should something go wrong. For example, if a company proves fraudulent, fails to deliver the goods or the goods are lost, damaged or stolen. In any of these events, you can apply to your card issuer for a refund.
The protection used to apply to items worth between £100 and £30,000,even if only the deposit has been paid using the credit card. However, since the Consumer Credit Directive was introduced in 2011, this protection now extends up to £60,260.
If you have paid by debit card, there is still a chance you can claim back your money under the Visa Mastercard and American Express chargeback schemes.
However, you must be able to demonstrate to your bank there's been a breach of contract and only then will it seek to get the money back from the retailer's bank. Unlike with a credit card, it is also not jointly liable for the transaction.
In other words, especially when making large purchases online, it could be a mistake to use your debit card.
5. Falling for email and phishing scams
Your personal details, such as your full name, date of birth, address and, of course, bank account numbers, are very valuable to unscrupulous cyber fraudsters.
Consequently, you should never provide your card details in response to emails (or cold calls) that could easily be scams designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash.
And never click on a link in an unsolicited email, even if the company name is one you recognise. The link may take you a phishing site instead of the real thing.
In this case, for the sake of a few minutes, it's always safer to open a new page and go to the website separately when making your online purchase.
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