What you think you’re buying vs. what you might be buying

If you’re not careful when making an online purchase, you might be buying more than you bargained for.

There aren’t many things we can’t buy online, whether it’s a holiday, a car, a Christmas present, event tickets, a TV licence or a games console or trainers. However, scammers use fake websites, emails, texts and social media posts to advertise these and many other items that simply don’t exist.

If you buy one something and it’s a scam, not only will you be disappointed when it doesn’t arrive, but the chances are that you’ll lose your money too. Not only this, but your money could be funding either an extravagant lifestyle for the fraudster or organised crime gang, or even more sinister activities such as terrorism, drug cartels or people trafficking. That’s whether you’ve been defrauded of £10 or £10,000.

Your top buying safety tips

Please read our expert, easy-to-follow safety tips to help protect you from falling victim to purchase scams, and be sure to pass them on.

  • However desperate you are to buy an item that’s in short supply or a late present, don’t pay for it by transferring money directly to people or companies you don’t know. If it’s a fraud, your bank may not be able to recover or refund your money. If you can, pay by credit card. The same goes for holidays, travel and tickets.
  • Many fraudsters are substantial organisations which operate as businesses, with the resources to set up fake websites that are very similar to the real thing. Make sure a website is authentic by carefully checking the address is spelled correctly. Ideally, type it in rather than clicking on a link in an email, text or post. Or go to
  • Learn how to spot fraudulent emails, texts or DMs, or fraudulent offers on social media. emails and other messages featuring ‘special offers’ and ‘prizes’ are commonplace. Don’t click on links in emails, texts or posts that you’re not expecting, and don’t open unexpected email attachments.
  • Make sure payment pages are secure by checking that addresses begin with ‘https’ (‘s’ is for secure) and there’s a closed padlock in the address bar. But remember: the https and closed padlock mean that the page is secure, but the site could still be operated by fraudsters.
  • Social media sites/apps and online forums are a popular place for advertising gifts, tickets and holidays. Many are genuine, but many others are fraudulent. Be extra vigilant about checking that such ads are authentic.
  • Log out of the web page or app when payment is completed. Simply closing it may not log you out automatically.
  • Don’t knowingly buy fake or counterfeit goods and do all you can to make sure brands you do buy are genuine. Fakes are of inferior quality, contravene copyright law and affect the livelihoods of workers who make the real thing. They can also be unsafe in use.
  • ‘Low-cost’ or ‘free’ trials can cause problems if you don’t read the small print and look for independent reviews. Whether they’re for the latest handset or slimming pills, you could be signing up for large monthly direct debits which are very hard to cancel. And if it’s for slimming or any other pills, check our advice on Buying Medicines on the Get Safe Online website.
  • Text messages and emails claiming to be from home delivery firms are also commonplace, informing you that there’s a charge for re-delivering a parcel, or a shipping fee to be paid. However busy you are or how much online shopping you do, keep a record of everything you buy and, if it’s specified, which parcel delivery firm the retailer is using.
  • Check that holidays, short breaks, accommodation or flights you book online are genuine by carrying out thorough research. Look for independent reviews, and make sure travel agents / tour operators are genuine by checking for an ABTA/ATOL number. It’s always best to pay by credit card for extra protection.
  • Do your research when it comes to pricing. Some sellers advertise products at a bargain or lower price during sales or events like Black Friday, when in fact they’re no cheaper or even more expensive.
  • Reporting fraud is essential. If you’ve lost money to fraud, report it immediately to your bank, as this will increase your chance of getting your money back and the fraudster being traced. Also, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre on 0300 123 20 40 or at  In Scotland, report fraud to Police Scotland by calling 101.

For more information on buying safely online, visit


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