Staying Safe with Shopping Online

Top tips for staying safe and avoiding scams while shopping on the web, particularly relevant for the Christmas period.

Decorative Image - christmas giftsIn the weeks before Christmas more and more people are avoiding the manic high street crowds and buying gifts for friends and family on the web.  As the shopping transactions increase so does the malicious activity and crooks are quick to exploit people who wouldn’t normally shop online and who might not be savvy to the risks. Here I’ll outline some quick tips for how to lessen the risk of being conned but the number one rule as I’ve mentioned previously is to pay attention…

There are two sides to this story; first is protecting your computer to make it harder for crooks to get a backdoor and install any nasty software, second is being aware of what you are doing on the web to reduce the chances of you stumbling on to any malicious websites. Think of it as a belt and braces approach so that if you slip up on one then the other should still catch you.


  • Patches! I probably sound like a broken record on this but it is one of the most important and often overlooked responsibilities of using a computer. When checking for updates remember to include any web browser and plug-ins as well as the operating system and applications. There are links to various update sources in a previous article here.
  • Anti-Virus – Another recurring theme is to make sure you have a good anti-virus program running and that it is up to date. There are links to several reputable AV programs and online services in a previous article here. You can also read up on the efficiency of the top AV tools here with independent testing and Amazon provide a list of the most popular AV tools.
  • Protection – Besides anti-virus tools it can also help to use a good firewall and spyware protection. More information and product links here. A spyware tool might pick up a key-logger program that could be overlooked by AV and a properly configured firewall would prevent the key-logger from reporting home with any bounty it’s managed to pick up.


Avoid scams – of course a free iPad sounds nice but it’s probably not going to happen. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook are replete with scams intended to bait unsuspecting people into handing over credit card details or download some nasty bit of software.

Email Promos – A lot of similarities with the social network scams, an email promotion or news letter may not always be what it seems. Receiving an unsolicited email from an outlet you’ve not dealt with before is often a good hint. Check that any links you click take you to where you expect to go. If you’re not sure you can always browse directly to the intended website either finding it from a web search or typing in the web address yourself.

Check the Web Address – regardless of how you arrive at any particular website, check the address bar to make sure it says what you expect it to say. Make sure the domain name is correct and has not been manipulated to fool you. Common tricks are to use a legitimate domain name as a sub-domain or sub-directory of another website like or /or mis-spellings and substitutions like or

Check for SSL – while you can happily browse around a website and add things to your shopping basked over an unencrypted connection you should make sure that the connection is secured before you provide any information like your name, email, password, address or credit card details. You don’t really need to understand the technical details behind SSL but you should spend a few minutes learning how to recognise it so that you’ll notice when it’s not there. More information on SSL with examples here.

Avoid the dark side– Try to stay to the most common websites, the ones that are well known, respected and trusted. You should be able to find everything that you need without having to venture out to shady or unheard of websites. Some good websites to get you started with gift shopping are Amazon, Firebox, I Want One Of Those and Ebay, or the websites of any high street stores like John Lewis or Marks and Spencers.

I hope this helps and happy shopping 🙂

2 thoughts on “Staying Safe with Shopping Online

  1. Cat

    Would you suggest paying by PayPal to be safer than directly through VISA etc? Does it matter? What kind of protection are you offered if you fall into paying on a fraudulent website?

    1. thegaryhawkins Post author

      Hi Cat,
      That’s a good idea but instead of handing over your Credit Card details you’d be handing over your Paypal details instead, so the crook would still be able to gain access to some portion of your money, so it doesn’t really provide much improvement in safety. I’m not sure what the recuperation process is with Paypal but I know that using a Credit Card gives certain insurance protections and it’s normally quite straight forward to get any fraudulent transactions paid back.
      One concern over using Paypal would be the alarming number of people who use the same password on several accounts so not only would a crook have access to your Paypal account but then also perhaps email and social networks as well which all together could be far more devastating than a single Credit Card that can be easily cancelled and replaced.

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