It may be the-season-to-be-jolly, but unfortunately record-breaking numbers of on-line shoppers also mean that tTis The Season To Be e-frauded, with millions of people seemingly saving their carbon footprint by using a mouse instead of a car and with record numbers of scammers and cyber-crooks donning their white beards and cyber-santa outfits in an effort to ruin our retail therapy this credit crunch Christmas.
So, with echos of those Public Information Films of the 60s and 70s - "Now Wash Your Hands" / "Clunk Click Every Trip" (R.I.P. Sir Jimmy) - here are a few tips from the posse at Web Sheriff as to the do's-and-don'ts of on-line shopping this Crimble.
NEVER give personal info in response to unsolicited e-mails. This is the biggest 'no-no' of them all...and, if you receive an e-mail asking you to register or 're-register' your contact or credit card details, never (and we mean NEVER) oblige or even respond. No matter how official and plausible looking the e-mail may be, it will be bogus and is simply a trick to try and get you to disclose information that will lead to identity theft or on-line fraud - a scam known as 'phishing'. If you need to provide your details to a bank or a store, then YOU contact them directly through their official web-site and, that way, you'll be sure that your information is secure.
ONLY order from web-sites that publish their addresses. This is also vitally important...never order from a web shop that doesn't publish its postal address and the identity of the company or owner. These days, consumer protection laws make this a legal requirement and you should ideally have a contact telephone number as well. That way, if your goods don't arrive or if they are damaged or sub-standard, you know who you are dealing with and your consumer rights can be enforced.
ALWAYS check the e-mail address that shopping offers come from. Crooks can lure you in with authentic looking e-mails so, no matter how plausible or official an email looks (it may even have well-known, corporate logos embedded into it), remember to double-check the e-mail address that it comes from...sadly, you'll all-too-often find upon closer inspection that, though similar, the e-mail address is subtly different from the one it should be. Again, be sure to never reply to these and report them as Spam for good measure.
BE SURE to use well-known sites if you want to buy by auction. If you fancy yourself as a cyber-bidder, then play-safe and shop via established sites such as eBay or iOffer and, whichever auction site you choose, read the small print and make sure that they have a proper complaints procedure and full contact details. Similarly, if you want to buy via an on-line market-place, then sites such as Amazon publish their complaints procedures, so you'll have some degree of comeback against the many, semi-anonymous sellers offering goods there. Also remember to buy from UK based sellers where possible - as it's a long way to Long Beach if you need to return that defective surf board you've just bought.
BE SMART about payment methods. Paypal tends to be a much safer way of effecting payments without having to give-out your debit card or credit card details to complete strangers and, even if you're dealing with an established retailer, paying by credit card actually affords you with greater protection than paying by charge card or debit card, as the credit card companies are legally obliged to reimburse you if you buy a lemon or are a victim of fraud. Do remember, however, that it will generally end-up costing you more to pay by credit card.
DON'T publish your holiday plans on-line. On a more general level, social networking sites may be great for spreading holiday cheer, but they've also proven to be a gold mine of personal information that crooks piece together for identity theft and house break-ins. So, if you do insist upon posting Facebook messages or Tweets about your holiday plans, then expect more than just Santa coming down your chimney this Christmas!
DO use e-mail scanning software. Remember to include mail scanning software on your cyber-wish-list this year to protect you and your computer from spam, junk mail, viruses and crooks 'phishing' for your data.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS - and remember these tips for a safe Christmas!
So, there-you-have-it, a few prudent, common-sense measures to help you be vigilant about your personal data while shopping on-line...although, come-to-think-of-it, if you add-up the carbon footprint of the ten ton truck that delivers your Xmas shopping, plus the pizza delivery and the off-license drop-off, then maybe we're not being so carbon-friendly after all...but what-the-heck, it's cold outside and Morcombe & Wise are on the telly - and who needs YouTube when such analogue treasures are available on your cathode ray tube?
Follow John Giacobbi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/websheriff