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11 tips for staying safe shopping online for Black Friday 2019

Lela London
Keep safe when shopping online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday - OJO Images RF

Despite drawing immense in-store crowds in the US, Black Friday is a thoroughly online affair for us Brits. We make millions of purchases and save thousands of pounds — and can do it all from the comfort of our smartphones.

Online shopping does, however, come with added risks. Though most stores and sellers operate legitimate businesses and use Black Friday to promote themselves, others know that some shoppers sacrifice their safety for a supposed deal.

Observing the safe shopping practices below will keep you far from Black Friday’s red flags. Here's how to stay safe while shopping online during the sales event.

1. Shop websites you're familiar with

Household name brands like Amazon and Argos are as trustworthy as it gets. They handle millions of transactions per day and have a myriad of security system in place to ensure their customers have a safe online shopping experience.

In previous years, over half of all Black Friday sales were made on Amazon, making it a more than reliable place to start when you’re looking for the best Black Friday deals of 2019.

2. Trust your instincts

Trust can manifest or dissipate in the click of a mouse and most retailers know their website’s design speaks volumes — it is why so many major retailers follow a similar site structure.

Most trustworthy sites make their inventory easy to browse, with high quality photos and product descriptions, and lead into a straightforward checkout. Avoid anything that looks unprofessional, has too many ads and pop-ups, or veers too far off ‘normal’ site structure.

3. Ditch non-secure checkouts

Shopping cart security is imperative as it is the most vulnerable point for fraudsters to attack. You want an encrypted checkout process and that should be noted clearly on the website itself (usually with a padlock). A good encrypted checkout should also trigger a small padlock to appear next to the site’s URL in your browser.

Many brands now give you the option to use PayPal and Google Checkout to process payments as they have additional buyer protection benefits. If in doubt, always double-check the URL bar — Google have pushed most websites to convert to “https” addresses to build trust in their checkouts.

4. Don’t divulge unnecessary personal information

While sharing your name and address in an online checkout process is a requirement, do not provide anything out of the ordinary — especially post-process. Phishing scams target shoppers around the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, often mimicking the web address of major retailers and requesting additional information by e-mail.

Never respond and never click on hyperlinks. Bank details and personal information should not need to be ‘confirmed’ in a non-secure environment like e-mail.

If in doubt, type the website address of your trusted retailer directly into your browser or call them directly.

5. Choose complex passwords and change them often

Simple passwords can be hacked in seconds and — annoying as it seems — websites are trying to help you when they ask for a lower case letter, capital letter, special character and number. Your passwords protect your privacy, purchases and pocket.

Keep passwords complicated and use different ones for different sites — you don’t want a hacker getting in to your PayPal after they get into a weak account elsewhere.

6. Move away from mobile shopping

Mobile shopping, though convenient, introduces many new security challenges to Black Friday. Scams include abbreviated URLs on social media (leading buyers into phishing scams) and public network hacking (unsecured “free Wi-FI” networks are very easy to pull personal information from).

Shop at home or on a different password protected network if you’re shopping on mobile, double-checking URLs and security certificates as you go.

7. Read reviews

The internet can dispel a scam as fast as it can host one, making product reviews — and reviews of the sites that sell them — a valuable Black Friday resource. Most websites will host reviews on product pages themselves, but fraudsters have also been known to fake reviews to forge authenticity.

Google has a rating system for vendors which allows buyers to submit a rating on a five star scale — check these ratings and question those with few reviews; one five-star review is not as reliable as thousands of four-star reviews.

8. Check the terms of service

If you’ve discovered a retailer with a great offer that seems to pass tips one through seven, search for their terms of service. You want complete transparency on who the business is, how they will ship your purchase, and the terms and conditions of refunds.   

9. Call customer service

I know, I know — it’s 2019. We don’t call people anymore. But a break from texts and left swipes could be the easiest way to protect yourself from a scam.

Anything from quick questions to counterfeit concerns can be resolved with a ring. A good customer service rep at a trustworthy company should be able to ease any anxieties within minutes. A dropped line or unanswered phone will likely do the opposite.

Even reputable retailers need customer complaint teams and strong service is a great indicator of safe shopping.

10. Set up credit card alerts

Even if it is only for the festive shopping period, you should set up purchase alerts through your bank and/or credit card company. Most send texts (if not, emails) when purchases are made above a certain amount and you can set the limits especially low if you’re concerned about your accounts’ safety.

Setting up maximum spend amounts (ie £1500 a month) will also protect you against more aggressive scams.

11. Use common sense

Some deals will offer amazing products at dirt cheap prices. Others will offer amazing products at dirty prices. You are not going to find the new iPhone XS for £100, as the company would lose a lot of money to sell it to you. You are also not going to find a "new iPhone deal for only £999!" all that thrilling if a 32GB iPhone SE (worth £249) arrives at your doorstep.

Remember your consumer rights, use our tips, and stay safe as you shop the best Black Friday deals for 2019. We’ll keep them coming.