Stay safe while online shopping—here’s how to protect your money and your data

Spending more time inside? Shop smart with these online shopping tips

8 min read

As for many of us, the coming months will be spent inside, so making sure that we’re shopping safely online is all the more important. Before you add anything else to your basket, there are a few safe online habits you should consider adopting.

Here are all the online shopping safety tips you need to know to keep your money, and your data, secure.

Online shopping safety tips

Your online shopping security largely depends on how you behave online. While this may sound obvious, it’s all too easy to overlook the importance of these basic steps when purchasing items online. In 2017, the FBI reported that the number one cybercrime was the non-payment for, or the non-delivery of, online purchased goods. So, next time you’re about to hand over your credit card details, ask yourself, is this website safe?

Here are a few online shopping pointers to consider next time you’re about to purchase something on the web:

Avoid using public WiFi

While buying something online from the comfort of your favorite coffee shop may seem appealing, it comes with a few hidden risks. Public WiFi networks are vulnerable to abuse, allowing hackers to intercept all kinds of personal data, including your browsing history, and access to your email and your passwords.

What’s more, if you decide to shop online while using a public WiFi connection, you also risk giving away your credit card details and your name. Therefore, it’s much safer to do all of your online shopping at home, using a secure internet connection.

Use a VPN or your mobile data

A VPN, or virtual private network, routes the connection from your computer and your internet service provider to the VPN’s private server instead. While this may sound a little complicated, all it means is that it encrypts the connection between your computer and the VPN server, making it very difficult for hackers to intercept your data.

However, if you want to go one better, simply use your mobile phone’s data to make online purchases as this is safer than connecting to public WiFi, and doesn’t require you to use a VPN.

Check your passwords

Again, this may seem obvious, but the amount of people who continue to use weak passwords is staggering. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre found that in 2019, 23.2 million victims of account fraud worldwide were hacked because they used the easily guessable password 123456. To make sure your passwords are strong, and to encourage safe online shopping habits, consider doing the following:

  • Don’t use the same password across all accounts, as if one gets hacked, they can all get hacked

  • Using a long phrase as it is much more effective than using a single word

  • Consider using a password manager which creates unique, strong passwords for every website that requires you to log in

Watch out for email scams

As email scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to detect, you need to be extra vigilant when opening up your inbox. However, if you receive a strange email from an unknown address, or an oddly written email that seems to be from one of your contacts, it’s very likely to be a fraudulent email.

Do not click on any links in the email as they could infect your computer with a virus. Instead, immediately delete the email, and if the email seems to come from a friend, contact them to let them know their email account may have been hacked.

Regularly update your computer and your phone

Making sure that your computer and your phone are using the most up-to-date operating systems protects them from being infected by malware. This is because hackers locate weak spots in different computer and mobile phone operating systems. Phone and computer companies are constantly working to try to spot these vulnerabilities and patch them up before the hackers can exploit them. However, if you don’t update your device, you leave it vulnerable to attack.

Is this website safe?

Now that we’ve covered some of the more basic safe online shopping tips, it’s time to take a closer look at how to tell if a website is safe or not. While it is always better to shop with a retailer that you know and trust, sometimes you find the product that you want, but it’s on a site you’ve never visited before. Here are some pointers to help you work out if the website is safe:

Look for the lock

A key feature to look for is the little lock symbol that appears in the corner of the URL field. Known as an SSL (secure sockets layer), this lock indicates that the website you are on is safe. Also, make sure that the website address is “https” and not “http” as the ‘s’ stands for secure. While some sites do try to recreate the image of the lock to make it seem as though they are trustworthy, always make sure that the lock is in the usual place for your browser before confirming that the website is legitimate.

Shop with trusted retailers

Trust is an essential feature of safe online shopping. If you’ve found a product that you’d like to buy, but it’s on an unfamiliar website, check the following to ascertain whether or not you feel safe purchasing from it:

  • Look for any spelling mistakes throughout the website. If you find a lot of them, this is a sign that the shop may not be legitimate.

  • Find out if they have a social media following and if they regularly interact with their customers. If they seem to have a thriving social media community, this is a sign that the website is more trustworthy.

  • Search for any customer reviews on websites such as trustpilot.com, which aims to bring customers more transparency over their online purchases.

Check the returns policy

Before you commit to buying anything online, check the returns policy first. If the website doesn’t seem to have a returns policy, this is a red flag. Before purchasing the item, try to contact them directly to enquire about how they manage their returns. If, however, you can’t find an email address, phone number, or physical address for the company, these could all be signs that the business is fraudulent and that the website isn’t safe.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

There is a huge online market for counterfeit goods which creates another hurdle for safe online shopping. As we cannot physically inspect the goods beforehand, it can be difficult to make sure whether what we are buying online is genuine, or a fake. Usually, counterfeit items are sold via more dubious websites, many of which would not pass the trusted retailer criteria listed above.

However, some counterfeit stores have sophisticated online storefronts. The trick to answering “is this website safe?”: check the price. Fake goods are nearly always priced significantly lower than their genuine counterparts. While it may appear that you have found a good deal at first, it is unlikely that a retailer of a genuine article would sell it at a significantly lower price than their competitors, unless of course the article is not genuine at all.

Payment security

When safe online shopping, payment security is essential. Handing over your credit card and personal details to a fraudulent website can cause a great deal of unnecessary stress and puts your money at risk. Here’s what to look for to make sure your online payments are secure:

Don’t give out too much information

If a website is asking you for unnecessary personal information such as your tax number, where you were born, or information concerning your family members, the likelihood is that it is fraudulent. If you’re confused as to why a website wants to know any additional personal information, try getting in contact with them. Failing that, it’s safer just to walk away.

Only pay via trusted methods

An e-commerce security red flag is any website which asks you to pay via methods such as writing them a check or asking you to wire them the money directly. If you can’t pay using your credit or debit card, or through a trusted payment system such as PayPal, the chances are that this website is fraudulent and you shouldn’t purchase anything from them.

Check your statements regularly

It’s really important to check your statements regularly. Fraudsters can be very sneaky, only taking small amounts out of your accounts monthly so that it’s difficult for you to even register that you’re a victim of fraud. Gradually, however, these small amounts can really add up, and by the time you notice what’s going on, it’s often too late to claim a lot of it back. Therefore, it’s a great idea to go through your bank statements each month and to make sure that you know exactly what each transaction is, preventing any fraudsters from blindsiding you, and thus keeping your finances secure.


Security at N26

Your N26 mobile app has instant push notifications for every transaction. This way, you can double check every purchase you made and detect any fraudulent payments immediately.

If you see a transaction you didn’t make, lock your card in the app immediately, and contact our Customer Support for a replacement card. In addition, you can follow this process to dispute the fraudulent transaction and receive a refund.

BibliographyFBI cyber crime reportNational Cyber Security Centre

By N26

The Mobile Bank

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