As the festive season approaches, online retailers are gearing up for another huge surge in sales as more and more of us decide to avoid the annual festive carnage at the local shopping mall and instead, do our Christmas gift buying from the comfort of our own home.

It’s estimated that in the UK, December 8th will be the busiest day of the year for online retailers, with £13.16bn being spent online in the final quarter of the year – a 15% increase on last year whilst in the US, it’s claimed that at least 88% of shoppers will at least research gift ideas online whilst 77% will carry out at least half of their Christmas shopping online.

But whilst online shopping is a growing phenomonon, the security risks that has been commonly associated with online shopping remain. In the UK last year, fraudulent credit / debit card activity for “card holder not present” transactions, whereby the card holder is not physically present in the place of business (such as online or telephone transactions), totalled £290.5m ($430.6m) according to Apacs, who monitor all credit and debit card activity in the UK.

Like with most aspects of internet security however, it is possible to take some simple steps to protect yourself from fraud.

Install internet security software.

Internet security software can help to distinguish illegitimate websites which could be attempting to appear as bona fide businesses. An email scanner will also catch any potential spam emails which may attempt to entice you into ordering from fraudulent sources.
It is also worth noting that whilst most fraudulent acts wth credit / debit cards are ensured, many banks insist that you take “reasonable care” with your card usage. Ordering goods online on a PC that does not have any form of antivirus or security software may be deemed as a breach of this condition.

Check that the company is legitimate.

A flashy website does not mean that the company is law-abiding, so take care when ordering from sites that you have not used before.
Legitimate traders will usually display a trading address and landline telephone number which you can contact. If in doubt, a simple search should uncover reviews of the retailer from previous customers.
If buying on eBay, make sure that you check the sellers feedback and read any negative comments that may have been left

Take into account the postage costs.

With many online retailers, the price that you see is not always the price that you pay. Make sure that you note down any postage and packaging costs, credit card surcharges and admin fees.

Use a secure site.

When ordering online, make sure that you do not enter any personal details or payment information on a side that is not sercurely encrypted. Most legitimate retailers use a SSL (secure socket layer) TLS (transport layer security) connection to prevent your data being intercepted or views by a third party. A secure site will be indicated by a padlock image on the bottom bar of your browser.
If paying for products bought on eBay, it is recommended that you use PayPal as a means of payment rather than cheque or money transfer as this this gives you more protection as a consumer.

Check the terms and conditions.

Read the terms and conditions of the retailer before placing your order and ensure that you are aware of the company’s privacy policy, cancellation policy and delivery proceedures.

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