It emerged today that in 2014, Northern Ireland shoppers lost over £150,000 to online shopping and auction scams. The PSNI received 162 reports of fraud between November 2014 and February 2015. A 42% increase compared to 2013.

In response to these recent statistics, here’s 4 ways that will help you stay safe while shopping online during the Christmas period.

  1. Is the website displaying HTTPS?

When buying products from websites, ensure you do so from sites that have and display a secure connection via HTTPS.

HTTPS is a means for secure communications over a computer network which is widely used on the internet. You can find this at the start of the URL you are visiting, for example, when you proceed to your basket or checkout on Amazon you’ll find the URL will be something like:

The main motivation for HTTPS is authentication of the visited website and protection of the privacy and integrity of the exchanged data, i.e. your credit card details, billing address etc.

HTTPS provides authentication of the website and associated web server with which an online shopper is communicating, which protects against man-in-the middle attacks. Additionally it provides bidirectional encryption of communications between a client and server, which protects against eavesdropping and tampering with and/or forging the contents of the communications. In practice it provides a reasonable guarantee that you are communicating with precisely the website that you have intended to communicate with (as opposed to an imposter), as well as ensuring that the content of communications between the user and website cannot be read or forged by any third party

2. The Padlock

Along with the HTTPS display in your URL bar, you can also verify the authenticity of a website via a padlock icon that will appear just before the URL such as the image below:

This is another indication that the website you are purchasing from has a secure connection between your device and the website’s server to ensure that any data exchanged between the two parties is not intercepted by malicious third parties or software.


3. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is

Many scam operators prey on bargain hunters, especially during the Christmas period. Consumers can be susceptible to fraud linked with ‘bargains.’ Online shoppers can get something that pops up on screen from a retailer with a voucher in it, i.e. “Just click on here for some special offers.”

It’s key to remember that most malware, viruses and Trojans appear on your PC or mobile device because you inadvertently invite them.

By clicking on the unfamiliar voucher code link, you’re more likely than not, inviting more than you bargained for to come down to your computer or mobile device.

4. Fake Wi-Fi

Scams can extend to Wi-Fi connections during the Christmas period. The scenario usually plays out the same way, you go Christmas shopping on the high street and need a break, you go to a coffee shop, you log onto the Wi-Fi. At least you think you are. In some cases, it can be someone else in the same coffee shop setting up their own Wi-Fi network. They can consequently look at your details as it passes through their machine. Always ensure you are logging onto the correct Wi-Fi network and if in doubt, ask a member of staff.


Hopefully these 4 pointers help you stay more vigilant while shopping online this festive period. University of Surrey security expert, Prof Alan Woodward sums it up well. When shopping online remember your ABC’s

  •  Assume nothing
  • Believe no one
  • Check everything

The best way to stay safe while shopping online is by exercising a little cynicism and remembering the 4 points listed above before submitting any of your personal details to a website. So with that in mind, happy shopping!

To find out more about protecting your devices from malicious attacks and viruses you can read more here