The definitive guide to staying safe online

Even the most cynical, careful and sceptical of us can be tricked by fraudsters.

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It’s even easier to become a victim when someone is using the internet to pick your pocket.

So, particularly in the run up to Christmas when many of us will be shopping online, it’s well worth brushing up on the fundamentals of staying safe online…

Lock and key

Never give a website any of your financial details – be it your credit card, debit card or bank account – unless you can see a padlock in the address bar of your web browser.

It can look different from one website to another, but should resemble this:


Padlock by address bar in web browser


Notice that the padlock is in the box where you’d type a website address or search query. It’s not on the web page itself.

But even a scam website can feature the padlock symbol, so it’s not the only thing to look for.

What’s in a name?

You should treat overly complicated web addresses with a healthy amount of suspicion.

A large organisation like House of Fraser should, for example, be able to register for its UK website. If you see something like or, you should approach with caution.

Web URLs are going through a bit of a change at the moment, with industry-specific suffixes like .music, .pizza, .bargains and others coming into use, but you should generally expect to see .com or for most businesses.

If you’re unsure, you can always do a Google search to find out if the address you see is the real deal.

If you want to go all Sherlock Holmes, you can even look up a website registrant’s details using

For House of Fraser, you’ll see these details:

Domain name:

House of Fraser (Stores) Limited

Trading as:
House of Fraser LTD

Registrant type:
UK Limited Company, (Company number: SC10677)

Registrant's address:
Store Support Centre
27, Baker Street
United Kingdom

And you can verify that London address with a quick Google search.

On that point…

Most trust-worthy businesses with websites will have a way of getting in touch with them beyond an email address.

A physical address and a telephone number (especially a landline) is generally a good sign, but doesn’t guarantee legitimacy.

Mind your Ps, Qs and everything else

This one is important. When you’re browsing websites, watch out for clever and deliberate mis-spellings in the website address that can be difficult to spot. It’s called typosquatting, and scammers use it to dupe people.

For example, might look correct at a glance, but clearly Apple wouldn’t mis-spell its brand name with an extra ‘p’.

Steer clear if you see anything like this.

Looks do matter

We’re taught not to judge on appearance, but with websites you really should. A legitimate online business should be precious about how customers see them. This means they’ll use good quality images and logos.

If images look grainy, low-resolution or otherwise not quite right, treat the website with caution.

Read the reviews

Some smaller websites might not be as up-to-scratch as those for bigger companies, so it can be harder to verify them. Thankfully, we live in an age where everything gets reviewed online.

So before you purchase anything, do a Google search along the lines of [company name] reviews, or [company name] scam. If they’re dodgy, you’ll soon see horror stories from people who’ve been scammed.

Beyond the website

Scammers love to use emails to trick us into handing over sensitive information. They’ll send you an email that looks like it’s from someone else and direct you to a fake website that resembles that of the email’s ‘sender’.

They’ve become more sophisticated with this technique, but always seem to give themselves away if you’re paying close attention.

First, treat all requests for information with suspicion. A website should never email you asking you to confirm your login details. A bank will never ask you to confirm your account details, and so on.

Next, check out the sender’s email address. As with web addresses, over-complicated addresses are a bit of a giveaway. Google the address if you’re suspicious and see what others are saying about it.

Finally, never open an attachment you’re not expecting, and be cautious of emails with a very urgent or vaguely threatening tone.

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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