How to shop safely online


Take steps to protect yourself when shopping online. Our top tips for safer online shopping will help you buy safely from websites, keep your payment details secure and return items that you don’t want or are faulty.

Shop safely online

Internet shopping brings the world’s stores direct to your home. There’s no travelling or queues, and, as it’s easy to shop around, you can often grab a bargain. There are, however, risks associated with online shopping from fake websites and non delivered goods to unsecured payments that leave your credit card details at the mercy of fraudsters. But by taking the following steps you can shop online with confidence.

Before you start shopping online

Before you go online, make sure your computer firewall is switched on. This acts as a filter between the web and your computer, preventing unwanted malware from getting access to your computer system. You should also have anti-virus software and anti-spyware installed on your computer and make sure it is kept up to date.

Pick a safe online shop

How to choose a safe website to shop from:

  • Only shop on reputable websites, such as familiar high-street stores. Ask friends for their recommendations or read online reviews of a website’s service.
  • Find out how to contact the online retailer. Look for links on the site saying ‘Contact us’, ‘Customer Services’ or ‘Help’ to find a postal address or telephone number. If a website lists just an email address, it’s worth sending an email to see how quickly they respond.
  • Ensure the website gives clear details of delivery charges and return policies.
  • Only buy from websites that offer secure credit card transactions. A secure transaction webpage will have https instead of the standard http in the address bar when you place your order. There should also be a padlock symbol in the web browser address bar when you buy goods. Double-click the padlock icon to reveal a digital certificate confirming the website is what it says it is.
  • Pay close attention to the online shop’s terms and conditions before you purchase. Be careful of sites that say an item’s price is fixed the day the goods are dispatched to you. This may mean you end up paying a higher price than when you placed your order.
  • Look for other customer reviews and comments. You can learn a lot about online goods and a site’s delivery and service from other’s first-hand experience.
  • Trust your instincts. If something seems to good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. 

Registering on an online shop

Before you can buy from an online shop, you’ll probably need to first register on the website. This involves creating a username and password so that the site remembers you when you next visit. Many online shops will use your email address as your username.  You’ll also need to provide your contact details and delivery address, along with your credit card details.

When registering your credit card with the site, you may be asked for the card’s security number. This can be found on the back of the card: just enter the last 3 digits (4 if you use American Express). Never provide your card’s PIN number – this is only to be used in person when paying in a shop.

Be aware that some websites will deliver goods only to the billing address of your credit card.

Rather than a credit or debit card, some online stores allow you to use an e-cash system such as PayPal ( This allows you to send payments securely over the internet without sharing your credit card number.

Buying goods online

This may vary depending on the website you use but generally buying goods online involves the following steps.

Step 1  Most shopping websites let you select goods and then place them in a virtual shopping basket. When you see an item you wish to buy, select it and click the button that says Add to basket (or similar). You can then carry on browsing for other goods if you wish.

Step 2  To see what’s in your basket, click on View basket (or similar). You can then check and change items in the basket and view the total cost of your order plus the delivery charge.

Step 3  When you’ve finished shopping, click the Checkout button (or similar). You should be given the chance to check details of the goods you wish to buy before placing the order. Follow the on-screen instruction to confirm and then place your order

Step 4  You’ll then see a confirmation page with details of your order, including an order number. Keep a note of this until your goods arrive. A confirmation receipt should also be sent to your email address.

Check an item is in stock before your purchase it. Most reputable online shops display stock information either on the item detail page or on the basket page.

Getting a refund

If you change your mind about goods that you’ve bought online or they don’t arrive on time, the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR) in the UK give you a cooling-off period. This period begins the moment you place the order and ends seven working days from the day after you receive the goods. During this time, you can cancel without having to give a reason. Simply contact the retailer to get a refund and arrange a return of the goods.

Returning faulty goods

If the goods you’ve bought online turn out to be faulty, you have the right under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 to return them within a reasonable time and get a full refund from the online shop. Alternatively, you can demand that the online store repairs or replaces an item. When returning faulty goods, you should not have to pay the return postage.

Free protection for credit card payments

Under Section 75 laws, UK shoppers have legal protection for the purchases they make costing more than £100 and less than £30,000 on a credit card. This means if you use your credit card to pay for goods, the credit card company will take joint liability with the online shop if something goes wrong.

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