Don’t be scammed: 10 tips to stay safe online

Every year Australians spend more online than ever before. Unfortunately, the numbers of scammers and frauds are also higher than ever. Don’t get sucked in. Here are our top 10 tips for staying safe online.

Give me the main points

  • Is that deal too good to be true? It probably is.
  • Stick to reputable websites and retailers.
  • Before entering your credit card details, make sure the website has SSL encryption technology.
  • Check the web address url carefully. Watch out for obscure domain names.
  • Check your visa statements regularly. Even if you haven’t bought anything for ages.

The past decade has seen online shopping boom. Pretty much everything is now just a click – and credit card – away.

The choice is vast. There are bargains are to be had. You can even get same-day delivery, or return things no questions asked, if you go with the right e-tailer.

Australians are among the most enthusiastic online shoppers in the world. NAB’s Online Retail Sales Index (NORSI) show we spent $20.1 billion shopping online in the past year, up 13.5% on the year before.

Unfortunately, cyber criminals have joined in the fun. Many attempt to trick you out of your personal or credit card details by impersonating a real website. The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) stats show an astonishing 250% surge in phishing attacks between October 2015 and March 2016. In the first three months of 2016, the APWG identified 289,371 unique phishing websites – the most they’ve ever seen.

These are worrying stats but they needn’t keep you from shopping online. With common sense – and remembering a few basics – you can shop online with confidence.

Our top 10 tips for staying safe

1. Use credible websites

Shop at a trusted site rather than merrily working your way through Google. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially once you click past the first page of results. Bigger is often better or at least safer: we’ve all heard of Amazon, for instance, and you’ll find most major retailers now have an online store. But look out for slight, subtle misspellings – a letter switched around or missing – or for sites using an unexpected top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example). Hoary old scams, but still effective.

2. S is for secure

Before you enter your credit card number, check the website has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. It’s simple to work out: the URL will start with https:// instead of just http://. You’ll also spot a locked padlock icon, usually shaded green and usually next to the URL in the address bar (depending on your browser). The benefit of SSL? It ensures any data you enter on the website remains private.

3. Too much information?

No online store needs your online banking number or date of birth to do business. However, if thieves find this out – and then get hold of your credit card number – you’re in trouble. Share no more information than necessary. ‘Too much information’ can lead to identity theft.

4. Check statements

Don't wait for your bill to materialise at the end of the month. Go online regularly, especially during the holiday season, and keep tabs on your accounts. Look out for any charges you don’t recognise or look suspicious. If something’s not right, call us straight away.

5. PC protection

Fraudsters don't just sit around trying to trick you into giving them your data – they’ll have a crack at infiltrating your computer with viruses and malware. Make sure your anti-virus program is regularly updated. If you don’t have security software, we offer our customers free anti-virus software.

6. Powerful Passwords

Devising a hard-to-crack password is crucial when banking and shopping online. Avoid simple words and phrases or birthdays – and use a combination of numbers, letters and symbols. And make sure it’s at least nine characters long. Or you may want to think about a pass phrase instead.

7. M-Commerce

A recent PayPal/Ipsos research survey of 17,500 smartphone-using Australians revealed that we do much of our product research on the go. Increasingly, we’re buying things on our phone. The same ‘Buy Smart’ principles apply here. Use well-known reputable apps like Amazon, Target etc. and make the purchase directly if you can.

8. Public terminals are just that. Public

It’s not a smart move to buy stuff on a public computer. But if you must, make sure you’ve properly logged out once you’ve finished, even if you were just checking Facebook.

What about using your laptop or iPad to shop on the road? At some point, you’ll have to enter your credit card number and expiry date, giving an eagle-eyed over-the-shoulder snooper ample opportunity to note down your details. It happens. So act like a cowboy at the worst saloon in town: sit at the back, back against the wall, facing the door.

9. Gift card giving

Gift cards are massive sellers at Christmas. But if you buy one, stick to the source – scammers often auction gift cards on sites like eBay at attractively low prices. However, you won’t know what value’s actually left on the card until you get to the check-out.

10. Too good to be true?

Are you being offered an incredible deal – say, ‘Buy a toothbrush and we’ll throw in a free iPad?’ What about that amazing job offer where you can make thousands of dollars a day from home – or from a Bali bungalow – for just a few hours work a week.

Social media is awash with scams like these. You’re too smart to be sucked in – but your friends might not be! Some may unwittingly share such an offer. Be especially wary if you get a message from a mate claiming they’ve been robbed and need money wired through ASAP. Don’t. At least, not until you’ve actually talked to them. Staying sceptical means staying safe.

Important information

For further information and examples of scams, check out ATO Online Security.

Have a read of our latest scams, frauds, and phishing alerts.

People also read