10 tips to shop online safely

With all of us spending more time than ever at home over recent months, we’ve also been living a greater proportion of our lives online. In October, a survey was carried out across several countries found that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we use e-commerce and digital solutions. Not only are we increasingly turning to the internet for news, health-related information and entertainment, we’re also relying on the internet to purchase everything from groceries and pharmaceuticals to electronics and educational needs, thanks to greater access, better price points, superior choice and added convenience.

Consumers in the UAE are shopping online more than they did before the pandemic. But with the growth in online transactions comes a corresponding rise in internet scams such as identity theft, phishing, and account theft. Police authorities across the UAE have repeatedly warned of an escalation in cybercrime this year, and the UAE Banking Federation has campaigned to raise awareness of and promote safer shopping habits.

With those alarming facts, it makes sense to remember a few pointers to protect yourself, your identity, and your money.

Stick to well-known brands

It’s a good idea to buy from established, familiar brands when shopping online. Not only do you know what you’re getting in terms of price, quality and returns policies, but well-known brands are also likely to have robust security measures in place to avoid the significant reputational damage accompanying cyber hacks.

Check a brand’s reviews

Everyone wants the trendy new “It” label, but before you buy from a new vendor, drop their name into Google plus the words “reviews” or “scam”. Other buyers’ experience will quickly indicate whether their products are worth the money and what sort of risk you’re taking by backing an unknown – albeit popular – label. Look for verified reviews, and remember that few or no reviews should be an immediate red flag.

Check out the brand’s social media accounts

A quick way to check up on a company is to look closely at social media accounts outside of the newsfeed where the ad popped up. Or click on the poster’s name and see where you are directed, when the page was started, whether it’s verified by the social network, and how long they’ve been in business. It’s also a good way to check customer perception.

Carefully examine a site’s URL

While you’re usually safer with an established brand, these companies’ popularity may also make them an attractive target for cyber hackers, who design fake, professional-looking websites to lure unsuspecting consumers. Research shows that such sites have a 45 per cent chance of success in getting you to part with your data. As a consumer, you can protect yourself by checking the URL before you make your purchase. Chances are it’s fake if the URL misspells the name of the company, has an inordinate number of extra characters such as dashes or strange numbers, or has been shortened.

Recheck the email address

Similarly, take a closer look at any offers you have been sent by email. Email hacking has emerged as one of the biggest threats over the coronavirus pandemic and even the best mail providers may miss a spam or phishing mail. Look closely at the email address, check for unusual website domains, and as an extra precaution, go straight to the company website instead and see if the offer is displayed there (if you’re responding to a VIP membership email, log in to the members’ area). If it isn’t, the email could be fraudulent.

Use a third-party service

If you’re suspicious, cut and paste the website’s entire URL into an online site such as Google Safe Browsing to find out if it’s genuine or not. Most up-to-date antivirus programs and web browsers will also alert you to potentially unsafe sites.

Is the connection encrypted?

There are several ways to check on a site’s credentials. If the URL begins with “https” instead of just “http” and you can see a padlock next to it, you know that any information entered into the site is protected by an SSL certificate. Without this certificate, criminals can hack the site easily. Second, check the site’s trust seal – does it display a “secure” or “verified” sign prominently? Go to that company’s website and cross-check that the badge is legitimate.

Were you asked for a bank verification code?

Once you’ve determined the site is legit and you’re ready to pay for your purchase, you should be required to pass an extra layer of security to enable the payment – a process called two-factor authorization. Besides keying in the verification code on your credit or debit card, such a second layer this could be a simple code sent via SMS to your registered (and verified!) phone number, or involve logging into your mobile banking app, a fingerprint scan or a security question.

Be wary of public Wi-Fi

From restaurants and hotels to malls and public areas, we’ve become used to Wi-Fi everywhere we go. The convenience of that immediate connectivity comes with a significant number of risks. Public Wi-Fi is often inadequately protected and easy to hack into. As a customer, your details may be stolen by a hacker operating off the same network – often in another country – or you may be redirected to a malicious website that looks just like the site you’re trying to reach. As a rule of thumb, switch to your data provider when paying or banking online in public places.

Don’t be swayed by promotions

If you’re offered an item at an unbelievable price or in a secret deal or are being told the company is going out of business – an extremely popular claim considering the coronavirus pandemic – be extremely suspicious. If the brand is reputable and reliable, the offer may well be likely – but chances are you would have heard about it in other ways. On the other hand, if the offer price doesn’t seem enough to cover shipping and handling, for example, you may be setting yourself for disappointment. An offer that sounds too good to be true usually is exactly that.

Don’t forget to share this article to protect your beloved ones from fraud when they shopping online.

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Keith J Fernandez is an editor and communications professional who advises on marketing content strategy. He is based between the UAE, the Netherlands and India and writes about business, technology and personal finance.

This article is intended to provide general information about finance and investments and does not replace or should be taken as professional financial advice. The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article except information on Citibank N.A. – UAE products referenced herein.
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