Are you one of the growing number of people who are doing their Christmas shopping online this year? It’s convenient — no crowds, problems parking or queues — and there is often wider choice available as well as competitive pricing.

Yet some are still wary of using the internet in this way. Yes, there are some risks, the main ones being that you do not receive goods of the quality you were expecting (or do not receive any goods at all!) and that your credit card details can be accessed maliciously. Though there are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself. You just need to take care with what you are buying, from whom and how you pay.

Your computer

Make sure that you have an updated firewall and that it is switched on. This acts as a barrier between your computer and the web. Make sure that you have up-to-date antivirus and anti spyware software installed. If possible, shop from home using your own computer rather than a public one. If you’re using a device away from home, think about your surroundings and seat yourself so that no one can look over your shoulder.

The site

Start by using familiar, trusted websites. Always enter addresses yourself in your browser’s address bar rather than following links from a search engine which can inadvertently lead you to fake sites. Check the address in the address bar again once you’ve arrived and be on the lookout for misspellings, like ‘eebay’ instead of ‘ebay’, or sites using different endings, e.g; .net instead of .com. Also, look for addresses which start with https: (and not http:). The ‘s’ indicates that the site has SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed.

Make sure also that the site gives credible contact details, a postal address and a telephone number- not just an email address. If in doubt, call to establish authenticity.

Double check the details of your purchase before going on to make payment.

Paying for your purchase

Along with the https address, look for the locked padlock icon. This should be on the browser window frame, not on the page itself. Never give any personal or credit card information to a site which does not have these. Using a credit card will give greater protection than other methods in terms of fraud, guarantees and non-delivery. Some sites will redirect you to a third party payment service like PayPal or WorldPay. Ensure this site is secure in the same way. Never, ever give credit card details by email.

Use common sense about what information you do give. Obviously some is needed to make a credit card payment, but you’ll never need to give your National Insurance number for example, and you should NEVER give your PIN number.

You may well have needed to register with the site in order to shop there, and this will involve creating a password. Never pass this on and don’t use the same password that you have for your online banking.

After purchasing your item, keep a record of time, date, receipt and order number. If you are not able to print these, take a screen shot as a form of proof of purchases, and look for email confirmation of your order. When your transaction is complete, always log out of sites where you have logged in or registered. Simply closing your browser will not ensure security. Finally, check your statements to ensure that the correct payment has been debited and that no fraudulent transactions have taken place.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40, or by visiting

Jan Blackbourn is a volunteer advisor at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Lincoln.