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Safer online shopping


Online shopping by UK consumers continues to grow year on year. By 2016 it is estimated that £221 billion will be spent each year online in the UK alone.

To help residents be smarter online shoppers, we've put together some advice to keep you safe online.

Better to be safe than sorry

Buying and selling online can be as safe as ordering goods over the phone. But you should be aware that there are those who will try to convince you to give them your personal details for dishonest purposes.

To stay safe only ever shop on secure sites. These sites have 'https' in front of the web address and have been checked to make sure they are who they say they are. A yellow padlock symbol is also on the address bar to show that the payment process is secure.

If your card is used fraudulently, your card issuer must give you a refund.

Be wary of emails from people you don't know

  • Look out for 'phishing' emails that request personal financial information. Emails claiming you have won a prize for a competition that you haven't entered or saying that you have won some money are likely to be targeting your personal and financial information and may be used for identity fraud.
  • Never go to a website from a link in an email and then enter personal details.

Check it out!

  • Don't assume an internet company is based in the UK just because its web address has 'uk' in it - check out the physical address and phone number. There are free sites where you can look up and see where the site is registered.
  • Make sure your virus protection is up-to-date.
  • Do some research and see what others say about the business on online message boards. These may highlight previous customers problems or positive feedback.
  • If in doubt, stick to sites you have heard of or were recommended to you.
  • Read the terms and conditions carefully so that you know exactly what you are signing up to buy. Is it a one-off purchase or are you signing up for an ongoing contract for goods or services? If the supplier is outside of the UK, putting things right can be difficult.
  • Keep a record of your order. Print off your confirmation and the terms and conditions.

Your rights when shopping online

The seller must give you written details of key information in advance:

  • The identity of the seller and their address (where advance payment is required).
  • A description of the product and its main features.
  • The price of the goods (including any delivery or return costs).
  • Details of your cancellation rights.

You have the same right with faulty goods as if you had bought them in a shop - goods must be of satisfactory quality and as described. You usually have seven days after receiving goods to change your mind. There are some exceptions such as goods made to customer specification, personalised goods and short-life items such as flowers. CDs, DVDs and computer software cannot be returned if you have broken the security seal.

Additional rights for credit card purchases

You have extra rights when things go wrong if you have paid by credit card for items with an individual price of more than £100. This is a great help if the seller disappears, goes bust or will not handle your complaint. Your credit card issuer must come to your aid and deal with your complaint as though they were the seller.

Buying with your debit card

If you have problems with non-delivery or faulty goods bought on your debit card, you may be able to claim via the Chargeback Scheme.

Buying goods on internet auction sites

When you buy something from an internet auction site, you are buying from the seller, not the site. The seller could be a private individual or a trader - it may not always be possible to tell the difference.

There are different types of sale available on internet auction sites. Some involve bidding auction-style and your rights can be very limited or non-existent. Others, for example, 'buy it now' on eBay, aren't auction sales at all and your normal online shopping rights apply where the seller is a trader - including the right to change your mind.

Use a site with a payment protection scheme which usually will not release the money until you have received the goods. Terms of these schemes can vary so read them before buying. Time limits for making a complaint under the protection schemes are often quite short so act quickly.

Further information

Find out more about your rights at Citizens Advice: consumer information or by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0345 404 0506.  

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