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Make secure online purchases by following these 6 tips

29 November 2019

Online shopping is becoming commonplace. Cybercriminals are also aware of this, and are shifting their field of activity to the internet. How can you make secure worry-free online purchases? Follow these tips.

1  Only work with websites you know

The safest thing to do is to make your purchases through trusted addresses. In other words:

  • Enter the address of the webstore into your browser yourself. Don't click on a link in an email! First move your cursor over the link, so that the underlying address appears in a pop-up.

Increasingly, advertisements pop up that seem to come from established webstores promoting well-known Belgians products. Also on Facebook pages. Don't click on them!

  • Also be aware of advertisements in search engine results, recognisable by 'ADV' next to the link. They can also be very misleading.
  • If you do click a link in an email or advertisement, always check the URL of the website to which you are taken. Properly check the web address in the address bar of your browser. Watch out for incorrect spelling such as AMAZ0N (a zero instead of an O), cooIblue (a capital I instead of an l), or a wrong domain extension (bol.net instead of bol.com for example).

2  Research new stores

Found an item at a new webstore, but you're not sure it's reliable? Put your detective talents to work:

  • A reliable store clearly specifies contact data, physical location, VAT number.
  • Also check the shipment and return conditions of orders.
  • Visit the store's social media accounts and check the interaction with other users.
  • Check the store's reputation. Read reviews on the website, or google the webstore to find any negative comments.
  • Some organisations give quality labels like Becommerce (for Belgium and Luxemburg) or Stichting Thuiswinkel (for the Netherlands); these are a sign of reliability.

3  No padlock, no purchase

A reliable webstore ensures you can make safe purchases via a secure https:// connection.

  • An https:// connection can be recognised by the locked padlock on the left next to the address bar.
  • Never enter confidential information, such as name and password, on a website without a secure connection - and certainly not your credit card details!
  • Don't give too much information either, only what the store needs to send you your parcel - a webstore doesn't need your national register number.

4  Take your own safety precautions as well

You can also take measures to guarantee a secure shopping experience:

  • Don't use unprotected public Wi-Fi networks in coffee shops for example. Others can eavesdrop on your communications and intercept your emails or passwords.
  • If you have to use a public Wi-Fi network, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your computer and the VPN server , a kind of tunnel for your internet traffic.
  • Use a strong password. Better still, work with a password manager. It creates separate, hard to crack passwords for each site you visit. You only need to enter the master password once on your desktop browser, your smartphone or tablet, and the tool will automatically enter your login and password on each site.
  • Make sure your computer is always up to date and immediately install any security updates released by your browser, mail or other programs.
  • Don't believe in fairy tales: products offered at un-belie-vable prices are usually also unbelievable. Compare the prices of the product with other websites, and beware of websites where the product is offered at a bargain price. The product is probably not in stock, and their sole intention is to get hold of your details.

5  Extra measures for secure payments

Paying with a credit card has the advantage that in many cases you will not have to pay fraudulent bills on your card. The disadvantage is that anyone who knows your credit card number (and security code) can make purchases in your name. Try the following alternatives:

  • Work with a virtual credit card. At De Post, for instance, you can buy a temporary credit card for a certain amount. Or buy a pay card for web services such as iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc. The webstore will never find out your real credit card details.
  • Many stores also have their own smartphone app. You can use the app not only to shop, but also to make secure payments without having to go to the website.
  • Apple Pay creates a once-only authentication code for each purchase which means the webstore doesn't get your credit card data. Google Pay is also accepted in many webstores if you use a mobile device.
  • If you do use a credit card, don't wait for your monthly statement, but regularly check (weekly) which payments are made with your account.

6  And what if something goes wrong?

Sometimes things go wrong. You ordered and paid for a parcel but never received it. Now what?

  • Keep all order confirmations in a central location. If things go wrong, you will need these data, for example, to allow your credit card company to investigate the matter.
  • Contact the webstore and make a complaint. If you don't get an immediate response to your email, call them - a personal chat always helps. We do not advise you to exert pressure by complaining via social media - unless the webstore's timeline shows that it does indeed deal with complaints via this route. Be sure to keep it civil, a mud-slinging contest doesn't help anyone.
  • If you've encountered a fake webstore, issue a complaint. The addresses are available here.
  • Also leave a review on the website to warn other users.

A healthy dose of suspicion when shopping online is okay. But don't let it spoil the fun when shopping online. Happy shopping!

SDG 16: peace, justice and strong institutions

With this article, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.