How to shop online safely and avoid getting scammed
When shopping online follow this simple advice to avoid getting scammed or tricked into thinking you're getting a bargain.
1. Stick with reputable traders
Sticking with a reputable trader is probably one of the best ways to ensure you don’t get scammed while shopping online.
So how do you know if a trader is reputable?
Look for things like an easy-to-find customer service number or email address for a start. Once you’ve found the details, give the business a call or pop them an email to try suss them out.
Sites with bad spelling and grammar errors are also usually a giveaway that all is not right.
And try find out where the company is registered. Don’t assume that a website is registered in a particular country based on its web domain. This is important because your consumer rights will depend on where the company is officially registered.
Not all .ie websites belong to companies based in Ireland, for example.
Legitimate international businesses based in the UK or outside the EU can trade with Ireland via a .ie domain. To avoid misunderstandings, consumers should check the business information on all .ie websites in the About/Contact (Us) sections, and separately in the Terms and Conditions.
If this information is not clearly available, consider shopping elsewhere.
Finally, sites with intrusive ‘pop-ups’ are often ones to be wary of.
2. Check out online reviews
Trust Pilot, Google Business Reviews and Feefo are great ways of finding out what other shoppers’ experience has been.
Shops with poor reviews should obviously be given a wide berth.
However, do take the time to read all the reviews online properly to find out what the issue is exactly.
For example a company may get bad reviews because delivery is a bit slow. But that doesn’t mean the business is unreputable and to be avoided at all costs - it just means you need to give yourself plenty of time for delivery.
3. Look for a secure connection when paying
When paying online, look for ‘https’ in the URL bar or a padlock symbol – this indicates a secure internet connection and means that the payment information you send is encrypted and therefore less likely to be stolen.
And don't disclose any personal information that is not necessary to complete a financial transaction online.
4. Avoid public Wi-Fi
Do not under any circumstances use public Wi-Fi when making payments – switch to 3G/4G on your phone if necessary.
5. Consider using a disposable virtual card
If you’re a customer of Revolut, remember that it offers a great service to help with shopping online safely - disposable virtual cards.
At the click of a button you can create a brand new ‘virtual’ card within the Revolut app, which you can use for one-off purchases online. The card details then automatically expire and your virtual card is destroyed as soon as you’ve used it so even if the website you have shopped with turns out to be dodgy, at least the scammers won’t have access to any more of your money or be able to sell on your card details.
And to make things even handier, a new disposable card will automatically be generated for you as soon as your card has been used and destroyed.
And don't worry about refunds - if you return something the money will automatically be credited onto your main physical card.
6. Shop within the EU
If you’re buying within the EU you have consumer protections which you may not have with a site elsewhere.
For example, by law, you have a 14-day cooling-off period on most goods bought online. And this applies from the date you receive the goods - not from when you make the order.
Under this rule, you don’t have to give any reason for wanting to return your goods, however you may need to pay for the return of the goods yourself.
Some goods are excluded from the cooling-off period however. These include:
- Hotel bookings, car rental, travel tickets and other leisure services
- Goods that are made to your specifications or that are clearly personalised
- Audio or video recordings or computer software that has been unsealed by the consumer e.g. DVDs, software installation CDs with the seal removed
- Goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, e.g. perishable goods
- Gaming and lottery services
If you want to return your goods, you are then entitled to a refund within 14 days. However, for physical goods, a retailer is allowed to wait until it has received back your goods before processing your refund.
But remember, under EU law, sites aren't obliged to offer free returns, even if many do offer this.
7. Read the T&Cs
Even if shopping within the EU, read the terms and conditions and delivery information carefully before buying. Is delivery guaranteed within a certain number of days? Will you be given a tracking code?
Check what the returns policy is in particular. Are returns free or is there a charge? Are you able to buy something online but return it in store? Are there some items (such as underwear and jewellery) where returns aren't accepted at all?
8. Be mindful of VAT and customs duty
If shopping outside the EU, and this includes the UK now, be mindful of VAT and customs duty.
It can be quite tempting to buy certain goods like phones and laptops on American sites, for example, as they can be up to half the price sometimes, however you could be liable for VAT and duty on the goods you buy.
For example, when shopping outside the EU, all online purchases will be liable to Irish VAT at up to 23%, while most goods over €150 will also be liable to customs duty - the rate of which changes depending on the product you’re buying.
There was previously a VAT exemption on goods below €22, but this was removed in July 2021.
You may also be charged an admin fee by your courier or delivery company.
And VAT is charged on the total price (so the cost of the item, plus customs duty, plus admin fee) and not just the cost of the item itself.
So a laptop which you see on a US site for €1,000 could cost you an extra €400 or €500 when you take into account all the charges to be paid.
Some of the more sophisticated retailers will operate on a “DDP” model – delivered duty paid, which means the price you see at the checkout will be the final price and will include all taxes and duties – but others will leave it to delivery companies here like An Post to collect the outstanding taxes before they hand over the goods, potentially leading to delays not to mention bill shock.
9. If in doubt, wait it out
If in doubt, trust your instinct and browse somewhere else or spend locally on the highstreet instead.
10. Don't get duped by dodgy sales tactics
Sales events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the post-Christmas sales and the 'Summer Sales' are all now ‘big’ events. However research (by the likes of consumer site Which? and others) consistently shows that many items are often just as cheap - if not cheaper - at other times throughout the year.
So don’t feel forced or pressured into buying something big during one of these ‘events’. There's a good chance the item will be on sale again at the same price, or even a lower price, in a few weeks' time.
And remember, a bargain is only a bargain if you needed the item in the first place and were prepared to pay the original price.
11. Be mindful of ‘sale’ prices
There are no hard and fast rules here - according to the law a business has to have had the product on offer at the advertised original price for a ‘reasonable’ period of time before the price was reduced – but a reasonable period is not defined.
However the view of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is that an accepted practice would be to allow the reduced price for only so long as the product had been at the elevated previous price. For example a product for sale at €100 for four weeks should only be advertised at the reduced price for no longer than four weeks.
However, in reality, there is little to stop a business selling a laptop for €1,000 for two weeks and then having it ‘on sale’ for six months.
And don't get tricked by prices with "now only' etc beside them. A laptop could retail for €1,000 and then 'now only' be €1,200 during a 'sales event' a few weeks later.
So if you see something for ‘sale’, do some research online on other sites to see what price the item usually retails at. Don’t be duped into automatically thinking the ‘reduced’ sale price is offering good value.
Take a look at our other guides
Did you find this guide useful? If so, make sure you check out our full range of helpful personal finance guides. You might be interested in the following:
- Considering taking a trip abroad? Here’s how you can avoid foreign exchange fees when travelling.
- Everyone should prioritise getting a tax refund at the start of the new year. Learn how to apply and what you can claim for in this guide.
- If you’re fed up with your bank’s pesky current account fees, consider switching! Discover how to switch current accounts here. Alternatively, see how you can reduce your current account fees in this blog.
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