Online shopping traps to avoid

Many of us will be doing more online shopping as the threat of Christmas begins to rear its betinseled head. It can save you money compared to the high street – but only if you keep your wits about you.

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Last week we revealed the top five supermarket traps to avoid, and since one pound in every 10 is now spent online, we thought we’d also offer some handy tips to make sure you’re not caught out on the internet.

Don’t go through another virtual checkout until you’ve familiarised yourself with these traps!

1. Using the default delivery option

The most expensive ‘express’ delivery options are usually also the ones that are pre-selected at the checkout page, making it all too easy to pay more than you need to. Check the delivery options carefully and choose the one you actually want, rather than the default.

If you do need your purchase extra fast, it might be cheaper to just buy on the high street once you’ve factored in the higher cost of delivery.

2. Rushing to buy if you’re a new customer

Don’t rush through the online checkout if it’s the first time you have used the website, as exiting before the point of purchase can actually earn you a discount. If the website asks you to register before buying, you’ll probably end up providing your email address – which it may later use to entice you back. For example, I created a new account on eBay recently without buying anything and received a £5 voucher towards my first purchase a few days later.

Some sites will track when you’ve put something in your basket but not made a purchase too, and email you a discount code after a certain amount of time – so don’t rush to buy if you are a new customer.

3. Drinking and shopping

Impulse buying is much easier when you’re sitting at home with your laptop and your credit card after a few drinks – and one-in-four of us is guilty of it, according to research. Keep the shopping and drinking separate.

4. Using ‘auto fill’ to store your card details

Buy something from an online retailer and you can often save your credit or debit card details for future use. This automatically fills the payment information boxes and is a convenience that (deliberately) makes it much easier to buy on impulse. Delete your stored card details if you can’t trust yourself not to spend!

5. Failing to spot scams

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is – so only buy from trusted brands, or websites that can be verified with genuine reviews, or which have a contact telephone number you can call (do this first if you’re suspicious).

When buying from any website, check it’s secure by looking for a locked padlock symbol in your web browser’s address bar, as pictured below. It’s not enough to be on the web page itself - anyone can fake that. Les Roberts has a thorough run-down of some of the most common online scams and how to avoid them.

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6. Getting timed out while looking for online discounts

This one’s not a life or death scenario but it’s irritating all the same.

In their own right, discount codes are a no-brainer, but finding them takes time and, even if you’re successful, when you get back to your shopping cart, you may have been timed out and have to start the whole process again.

Either search for the codes first or get yourself onto a clever web browser tool which will do it for you automatically. If you use the Google Chrome browser, for example, install the Honey extension and you’ll be able source discounts quickly by clicking the Find Savings button, without leaving the retailer’s site.

Make sure you also sign up for any newsletters or updates from the sites you like to shop at to find out about sales, deals and discounts.

7. Fake product reviews

Other buyers’ reviews can really help when deciding whether or not to buy something, but a ‘customer review’ might not be all it appears to be:

Some, like the ones pictured, are just hilarious send-ups, but others are written by people with a vested interest in you buying, duping you into thinking a product is better than it is.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Overly-enthusiastic praise, with no mention of any downsides
  • Several high-scoring reviews submitted at the same time, or on the same day
  • Overuse of the pronoun “I”, to convince you they personally tried the product


Check the reviewer’s other reviews. If there are none, or they’re all for the same product or brand – the reviewer could be bogus.

8. Being taken-in by lookalike sites

If you arrive at a site via a Google search, make sure you’re genuinely on the site you think you’re on.  A website may look exactly like Amazon, but check the address bar and you might find the URL is subtly different. ‘Spoof’ sites are an elaborate scam and can be very convincing.

If the address looks familiar, but not quite right e.g. it ends in “.info” rather than the “.com” you were expecting, just Google it quickly to see if anyone else has called it out as a scam.

9. Using the wrong card to pay

If you take these precautions, shopping online is perfectly safe, but you should still take care to protect yourself, especially with larger purchases.

As Les Roberts explained last week, using a credit card to pay for purchases between £100 and £60,260 will give you protection if the purchase is faulty, or doesn’t arrive, or was advertised by a scammer and doesn’t actually exist. Debit cards don’t offer anywhere near the same protection.

Always buy from recognised brands and trusted sellers, whatever the cost of your purchase, and you won’t go far wrong.

10. Paying for things you don't want

As revealed in a recent episide of BBC's Watchdog, some online retailers have been found to add items to your basket without your express permission (you do have the option to remove them) and then charge you for them. For example, Sports Direct added either a magazine or mug, or both, to customers' baskets and charged £1 for them.

Be careful to check exactly what you're paying for before you confirm anything.

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