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Safe Buying Online

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You've got less than five weeks to get all your Christmas presents sorted.

Now that we've got your attention, it's time to go through some timely advice about safe shopping online. How do you keep your credit card details secure? Do you have a cooling off' period if you change your mind? Are online sellers subject to the same consumer rights regulations as those who are brave enough to tackle the high street on Christmas Eve? Let's take a seasonal look at safe buying.

Online security

You probably already know all this, but it's worth going through once again. Online credit card fraud is at an all-time high, so it's never been more important to be as robust as you can when it comes to protecting your details. Here are our five top security tips:

1. NEVER use the same password for everything. If your account is compromised then all of your online activity is vulnerable, including online banking details. Make it complicated, random, and our top tip is to include the £ sign in your password: it's a symbol that overseas hackers may not have on their keyboard.
2. Look for the padlock. Before you type in your details, check that you're on a secure https' site, complete with a locked padlock icon.
3. Don't leave your browser open, especially in a public place
4. Don't click on links you aren't expecting, or are unknown to you
5. Your bank will never, repeat, NEVER ask for your banking details in an email or over the phone, especially passwords, so don't be tricked into giving them out.

If you're buying a high-ticket item online and are asked to pay by bank transfer, then make sure that the name of the account holder matches the account number and sort code. If you're not sure, you can ask your bank to check the details before you make the transfer.

Oops, I did it again...

Impulse buys (especially late at night) can be rectified, so don't panic if you wake up the next morning and decide that you don't need a pet vacuum (mainly because you don't actually have a pet). All online purchases are covered by a raft of legislation, including an all-important 14-day cooling off' period, when you are perfectly entitled to change your mind and cancel your order. In fact, online purchases are covered by more rights and legislation than real world' buys, including the option of requesting a full refund if the goods you purchase do not appear on your doorstep by the agreed delivery date, which has to be given at the time of purchase.

Bear in mind, though, that if you buy something from abroad then your delivery dates are going to be considerably longer, and you may have more issues in claiming a refund, especially for smaller, cheaper items. No matter what you buy, though, it has to be of satisfactory quality', which means no minor defects or imperfections, and fit for purpose.

Does this cover digital purchases?

For years, there was a big loophole in the Consumer Rights Act - digital content. However, the Act was amended in 2015 and has made a proviso for digital content (such as downloaded music or videos), so if it doesn't meet the same standards (namely satisfactory quality), then you are entitled to your money back.

What if I don't like a gift?

If someone buys you a gift, and it's not exactly what you want, it can be very awkward to ask, "Do you still have the receipt?" so you or your gift-buyer can get their money back. However, if a present isn't quite what you're looking for, then you'll find that most stores will be quite understanding. Bear in mind, though, that any refunds will go to the person who paid for the item, not the gift recipient.

You may also find that some stores around Christmas extend that cooling off' period for up to 30 days to deal with the returns rush that often happens on Boxing Day and into the New Year.

Buying online saves time, effort (especially if you don't like crowds), and quite frequently, money. It's the easiest way to buy Christmas presents, and as long as you practice a little due diligence, you should have a great buying experience without any problems. If, however, things go wrong and you're battling to get a refund, talk to a legal expert who specialises in consumer law for advice.

Lydia Wawiye

Lydia Wawiye is a Solicitor in the Civil Litigation Department and can be contacted on 01323 434416 or by email

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