The logo looks right, the images are familiar and a long-term favourite brand is suddenly offering a sensational 80% reduction on current season stock. Before you part with your money to pick up that all-time unbelievable bargain, just think it through. If it sounds too good to be true, it inevitably is says Chris Partridge

Buying stuff online is a bit like shopping in an unfamiliar city – it is easy to stray into dodgy backstreets where you can be fleeced by unscrupulous dealers or even get robbed. And although you don’t face physical threats in cyberspace, online scammers can empty your bank account in a way a mugger can’t.

Luckily, following a few simple guidelines can minimise the risk. The first essential is to keep your brain in gear, remain vigilant and employ effective strategies to protect yourself. Here are some of the most effective tips to keep safe when shopping online.

For starters, only use your credit card as this prevents the vendor seeing your bank account details.

A UK card gives you protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which enables you to claim a refund from the card issuer if the goods fail to appear, are defective or not as described by the vendor. There are similar schemes to protect consumers across Europe – check with your card providers what they are and how you claim.

If you crave the convenience of PayPal, you won’t get statutory protection but the company does have a buyer protection scheme. It is a bit more limited but it does cover non-delivery and misdescription.

It almost goes without saying that you should never send money by wire transfer or make payments with cryptocurrency, as these methods offer no protection at all.

Okay, you have your credit card to hand and you are looking for a bargain. Proceed with caution – when encountering a website that seems to offer the moon, it’s crucial to thoroughly assess its authenticity.

Start by examining the design, layout, and overall quality of the website. False websites often look unprofessional and may contain multiple spelling and grammatical errors. Legitimate businesses invest in high-quality websites to enhance user experience and build trust with their customers.

Pay close attention to the website’s URL, the web address in the box at the top. Scammers may create domain names that are slightly different from reputable brands, intending to deceive unwary shoppers. Check for slight variations or misspellings in the URL to ensure you are on the genuine website.

Additionally, look for secure website indicators such as “https://” and a padlock symbol in the address bar. These indicate that the website encrypts your data, ensuring a secure connection. It doesn’t guarantee the site is genuine, but scammers often don’t bother with secure sites.

Avoid entering personal information or making purchases on websites without these security measures.

Next step – look at the contact information on the site, such as email addresses. Authentic websites provide legitimate contact information to establish trust and facilitate communication with customers. When in doubt, carefully examine the provided contact details. Scammers often use generic email addresses or free domain email providers instead of official business addresses.

To verify the legitimacy of an email address, conduct a quick internet search using the company name and domain. Legitimate businesses will usually have a professional email address associated with their website domain. If the search results don’t align with the information provided, it may be an indication of a false website.

Before making a purchase, take the time to research the company behind the website. Search for customer reviews, ratings, and testimonials from reputable sources. Look for any red flags, such as numerous complaints about counterfeit products or fraudulent practices.

You can also check if the company has a presence on social media platforms. Genuine businesses often have verified accounts with a significant following. Evaluate the engagement on their social media posts and read comments from customers. Beware of businesses with low engagement or suspicious activity.

When it comes to making a payment, keep the information you give to the vendor to a minimum. Only fill in the mandatory details – usually marked with an asterisk (*) – which will typically include the obvious stuff like the delivery address and your credit card number and expiry date. You should not have to provide security details such as your mother’s maiden name or the make of your first car to complete your purchase.

If possible, don’t set up an account with the retailer. You can often avoid this by using PayPal or logging in with your Google or Apple account.

Password security is also vital. Don’t use the same password for your online accounts and your bank, PayPal, email or social media accounts, as if the website you are looking at is a hacker and they gain access to your online password they will then have access to your really important areas. If you haven’t turned on two-factor identification yet (the system whereby passwords have to be verified with a code sent to your mobile phone or email) do it now.

As the internet continues to evolve, so do the tactics employed by scammers. Staying vigilant and adopting a proactive approach is crucial when it comes to identifying false websites and protecting yourself from online scams. Remember, an extra few minutes of investigation can save you from potential financial loss and frustration in the long run.

Read the full story in the August issue of AlgarvePLUS.

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