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Sarah Young’s Cyber Crime Column 15/11/2016 – Safety on the virtual high street

Love it or loath it, there’s no escaping that Christmas time is rapidly approaching once again. Whether you’re all organised and know exactly what you’re getting for those special people in your life or you’re a last minute panic buyer that crams in their shopping at the 11th hour, the run up to Christmas is a busy time for shopping.

Nowadays, many people rely on the internet to shop till they drop from the comfort of their own sofa. Let’s face it; even if you don’t regularly shop online the chances are you’ve dabbled in it or have considered doing it when faced with a trip out to the high street to contend with queues on a cold, wet day. It can save a lot of time and effort and you can pick up some real bargains. In fact, last year almost 80% of internet users bought something online.

Retailers are picking up the trend too with ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ deals starting to take off in the UK in recent years, having become a stateside staple around Thanksgiving time for a number of years now. This year ‘Black Friday’ is on Friday 25 November 2016 with ‘Cyber Monday’ on 28 November and it’s expected once again to be one of the busiest online shopping days of the year with online retailers enticing shoppers with discounts.

As with many things in life, there are some risks associated with shopping online. For example: ask yourself – how do you know that your card details are sent to the retailer in a secure way? And, which payment methods offer you the most protection?

Well, by following just a few simple steps you can make your online shopping experience much safer.

• Firstly, ensure you have a secure connection before entering any payment details. You can identify these by looking for a website starting with ‘https’ (the ‘s’ stands for secure), a closed padlock symbol in the website address bar or the web address itself may turn green

• Avoid any financial transactions using public Wi-Fi hotspots

• Never enter your PIN or banking passwords when making an online purchase – if you get asked for these, end the transaction immediately. 

• Consider using a credit card – the Consumer Credit Act 1974 offers additional purchase protection for goods costing between £100 and £30,000 (although there are sometimes fees associated with online credit card payments) 

• Exercise caution – if you don’t recognise the website check for ratings and reviews and avoid any sites that offer ‘too good to be true’ deals or ask you to pay using bank transfers or money transfer services

• Install anti-virus / security software and keep it up to date along with your operating system and apps.

For more advice on how you can stay safe online in the run up to Christmas see our website or subscribe to our social media channels on Facebook (CyberBee Wise Wilts) and Twitter (@CyberBeeWiseWP). Happy shopping!

PC Sarah Young is the Cyber Crime Prevention Officer for Wiltshire Police. She’s been with the Force for 13 years and works as part of the Crime Prevention Team. Sarah is passionate about helping people stay safe online. 

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