Shopping online can save time and effort and gives you a wide choice of goods from around the world. Unfortunately, while most buyers and sellers are genuine, fraudsters use online shopping scams because they can hide their identity and target many victims at the same time.

What you can do to protect yourself 

Choosing where you shop

If you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase.

If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases. You will need to check your card's Terms and Conditions for exact details.

Keep your devices up to date

Make sure you install the latest software and app updates. These usually contain important security updates that can protect you against fraud and identity theft.

Information can easily be found about how to install these updates from Apple, Microsoft and Google. Even better, just turn on automatic updates so your device will update itself in future.

Secure your email account

Use a strong, separate password and two-factor authentication (2FA) to secure your email account. Criminals can use your email to access other online accounts, such as those you use for online shopping.

Take care with links in emails and texts

Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites, designed to steal your money and personal details.

Not all links are bad, but it's good practice to check by typing the shop’s website address manually into the address bar of your browser, or find the website through your search engine (eg Google, Bing).

Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA)

To give any online account additional protection, where possible, you should turn on two-factor authentication (2FA).

2FA is a way for the service you're using to double check that you really are the person you claim to be, when logging in.

Use a password manager

If you have lots of accounts, the temptation to re-use passwords and usernames is pretty strong. A good way to get around this is to use a password manager.

These systems remember all your login details for you, so you can choose good passwords for each of your online accounts, without worrying about losing or forgetting them.

The only password you'll need is the one for the password manager application itself. This blog post will tell you all you need to know about password managers.

Don't give away too much information

You shouldn't need to give out your mother’s maiden name, or the name of your primary school, in order to buy something.

There’s some obvious details that an online store will need, such as your address and your bank details, but be cautious if they ask for details that are not required for your purchase.

Only fill in the mandatory details of forms when making a purchase. These are usually marked with an asterisk*.

If you can avoid it, don’t create an account on a new site unless you’re going to use that site a lot in the future. You can usually checkout as a guest to make your purchase.

When things go wrong

We all make mistakes and these days the scams can be incredibly convincing.

If you think you may have been taken in by a bogus website, you should first, take a note of the website's address, then close down your internet browser.

Then report the details to Action Fraud and contact your bank to seek advice.

Whether you've been a victim of fraud will depend on how much information you’ve provided to the website. So keep an eye on bank transactions, if you can.

Contact your bank immediately about anything that you don’t recognise, even small amounts.

Buying vehicles

As well as the advice above, there are further steps you should take if buying a car advertised online.

Always view the vehicle and documentation before making any payment.          

Make sure you receive a receipt and ‘new keeper’s details’ (V5C registration certificate) at the time you make the payment.

Check that the V5C has a DVLA watermark, and that the vehicle identification number (VIN) printed on it matches that on the vehicle itself. 

The VIN is stamped into the vehicle’s chassis, usually in the engine bay or beneath the plastic trim around the driver or passenger door opening. It’s normally also displayed on the bottom left of the windscreen when viewing from outside the vehicle, and/or on a sticker inside the driver or passenger door opening.

Don’t be pressurised into making any advance payments (such as a holding deposit or transportation fee) without seeing the vehicle in person first.

Carry out checks by getting a Hire Purchase Investigation (HPI) vehicle history check or similar report to make sure the vehicle isn’t stolen, cloned or subject to outstanding payments, and a DVLA MOT history check.

Be wary of purchasing vehicles from another country, particularly when there are requests for exportation costs.

Use known third  party payment providers after checking terms and conditions. If making a direct bank transfer, send the transfer only at the point of collection. Avoid using cheques or banker’s draft.  

If you make payments in cash, consider carrying this out at your or the seller’s bank premises for added protection.  

Useful sites

Get Safe Online
Provides unbiased, practical, easy-to-understand information about online safety and security.

Action Fraud
The UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre.  Providing a central point of contact for information about fraud and cyber crime.
0300 123 2040

Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG)
An industry forum created to help protect buyers and sellers of pre-owned vehicles from fraud during the online buying and selling process.