How to shop safely online this Black Friday and festive season 

From consumer rights to security, and from vigilance to research, here are the golden rules on browsing and purchasing 
How to shop safely online this Black Friday and festive season 

We have become increasingly nimble in the way we shop. Nipping in for our click-n’-collect from valiant, locked-down retailers, delaying gratification with clothes purchases online and weighing up significant buys for the house with nothing but a cunningly lit virtual image. 

Many of us previously used the internet for window-shopping and a retail tease, abandoning our virtual trolley at checkout. 

Inversely, we prowled the high street and then bought more cheaply online. This displays chill, e-commerce intelligence and enduring reservations about buying remotely, without "feeling the quality".

If you still think a PC cookie is something you nibble on while choosing silk cushion covers from abouttoberippedoff.com, here’s a few pointers on safe and satisfying buying online, and how to calmly cope with the process when things go up the Christmas pudding. Tread softly, for you tread on your credit card.

ONLINE-READY

Every time you go on-line with any device you are potentially infecting it with malignant spyware and viruses. Spam, identity theft and credit card fraud can seize on your details without sufficient protection — that means a firewall, plus an antivirus/anti-spyware program. Free software is available to download on-line. Ask your local computer outlet to recommend a dedicated suite of products. Avoid public wi-fi when shopping – it’s a lot less secure. Ensure your passwords are not ridiculously simple to crack.

CONSUMER RIGHTS  

You have all the same consumer rights buying online or making a transaction verbally by telephone that you do in person. In fact, under EU consumer legislation you have a few more when you stick to a trader or registered company. 

Outside the EU or buying from a casual, private seller, your purchase protections become sketchier. If you buy from a private buyer on eBay — eBay will be mediate any problems.

Contact your bank if anyone contacts you inexplicably by email or phone for your account details, passwords or intimate financial account data.

QUALITY

According to the EU Distance Selling rules, goods must be of satisfactory quality and match the description given on the website, free of any faults, including minor ones, durable, of good quality and fit for purpose. Find more detail here: ccpc.ie

COOL IT 

Distance buying - online purchases and telephone purchases have a standard ‘cooling-off’ period where you can cancel the transaction and (if they have arrived) return the goods to the seller. There are caveats. First of all many bespoke goods and some services (for example airline tickets) are not covered. Check if your vendor will pay for the return. Returned goods should be in their original packaging and in perfect shape – obviously. Don’t tear into the box. The cooling-off period starts seven days after the day the goods arrive to you, and once returned you are entitled to a refund within 30 days.

WHO IS THE SELLER?  

Real, user reviews count for a lot more than an all singing and dancing website. Expect a full terrestrial address and a business registration number. Having an ‘ie’ embedded in an address or an Irish sounding name does not mean you are buying from an Irish company. Don’t shy away from negative feedback on platforms like Trust Pilot (trustpilot.com) – explore it. Search engine rankings are not a mark of quality but ability to pay for ranking. Ensure the website spelling is correct.\

Handing out your credit card details should give you pause. PayPal, is the most popular, free service for handling distance transactions and offers considerable protection against rogue traders. Trusted e-cash systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay, can handle on-going purchasing for you directly linked to your card without a vendor having access to it, providing extra peace of mind including dispute resolution. To guard against cyber phishing go to ccpc.ie

SECURE PAYMENTS 

You should be directed to a secure, encrypted page starting with the address "https-", rather than "HTTP", plus a padlock symbol. Don’t buy from a site without a secure payment page, a solid code of buyer information privacy and a clear returns policy. Requests for the three numbers on the back of your credit or debit (CVV/CSC) or two-factor verification with a text to your phone is a nice touch.

DETAILS TO LOOK FOR 

EU online sellers must provide you with detailed information, including their contact details, the main characteristics of the product or service and the total cost of the product, including all taxes and delivery charges. Your purchase should be delivered within 30 days unless you agree otherwise. Take time to read those T&Cs before checking out.

RESEARCH  

Descriptions, images, zoom facilities, and sample materials will empower you as a shopper. Price comparison and expert review sites offer blunt customer feedback and independent product testing. Screen reproduction of colour will not perfectly represent your piece. Fabric swatches may be available to examine at home. Is that kettle in brushed metal or stainless steel? Measure up your spaces and check on compatibility. It’s not the courier’s problem if you are blind-sided on delivery.

SHIPPING  

You may be offered a choice of shipping routes rated by price. Are dates guaranteed, and what recompense can you expect? If you cancel your order because of an outrageous wait for delivery you may be charged a re-stocking fee. Taking into account weight, an impulse buy of say a three-seater sofa could prove expensive if you grow chill to its charms and have to pay for its return. Paypal has a Refunded Returns service where they will ensure those shipping costs are refunded, paypal.ie

PAPER TRAIL 

When you commit to buy you enter into a legally binding contract and you should receive confirmation of the deal in writing. Expect an email confirming your order immediately (check your junk mail folder if it fails to appear) and keep these records safe. Look for details of the goods, delivery times and any extra duty or excise if you are buying outside the EU.

Buying with your credit card through anything from a phone to wearable device actually affords you extra protections. 

The credit card companies have their own procedures for monitoring transactions and potential fraud and dealing with outright crime and disputed transactions. Unauthorised transactions have zero liability on your part. Chargeback (where your bank gets your money back for you) is applicable on credit and debit cards if they find it appropriate. If you buy with say Paypal, that will be your port of call for disputes

·If you find your buy is damaged in some way inform the vendor immediately quoting your order number and outlining the problem with pictures if applicable. Under EU rules, any faults that become apparent within six months of the goods being delivered are presumed to have existed at the time of delivery. The trader may first offer the consumer a repair or replacement, but if this does not suit, the consumer may seek to rescind the contract and ask for a full refund.

VIGILANCE  

Check your bank and credit card statements regularly and inform your bank immediately if you suspect any fraudulent activity.

If the seller is located in Ireland, and your credit card company has not resolved the issue, you may have recourse to the Small Claims Court for amounts under €2,000. There’s a €25, non-refundable fee, and if you need it you can find the company’s name at the Company Registration Office, cro.ie, courts.ie

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