Have you ever ordered your dream outfit online, but it arrives at your house looking completely different? Or, even worse – it never turned up at all?

While we’ve probably all experienced an online shopping disappointment, did you know that fake shopping sites can put you at risk of online fraud?

Over the last year, around 15 million people in the UK have experienced cybercrime. In a survey by Norton LifeLock, most people are putting this down to the new culture of home working (76%) and almost half of people aren’t sure how to protect themselves from cybercrime (46%).

To help you stay safe online, we’ve created our seven top tips to safe online shopping…

1. Always click carefully

Both at home and at work, we’re constantly bombarded with offers, push notifications and promotions. But if you’re sent a link through a text or an email – should you click it?

Not all links are bad, but some messages look like ‘the real thing’ yet are a fake website that’s designed to steal your money or personal details. Make sure that all words in the link and message are spelled correctly and you can see the full link. If you’re unsure, bypass the link altogether and go straight to the company website.

Another way you can check if a website is secure is to look out for a padlock next to the box where the website’s URL is on your browser. If it has one, it means the site is encrypted and when shopping, browsing or making payments can’t be intercepted.

2. Buying from a person? Do your research

When you’re shopping on marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, or Facebook and you see a great deal, there’s a few checks you should do before you buy.

Firstly, have a look at the seller’s profile. Have they sold a lot of items before? If you wanted to, could you get in touch with them? If they have limited contact options, it could be a sign that all is not as it seems.

Then head for the reviews, what are other buyers saying? When you’re looking at reviews, bear in mind that some might not be legitimate. While most are trustworthy, some companies now are paying for them. This could be sending free products – especially in the influencer area – or simply creating them illegally.

Finally, check out the returns policy before you make your purchase, otherwise you might be stuck with expensive returns fees – or no return option at all. If in doubt, contact the seller and ask questions before you buy.

3. Keep your devices updated

Keeping your phone and laptop up to date can help to protect your tech. Often, you’ll be alerted when you need to do an update – so don’t ignore it!

If not, you can always invest in some extra security – especially if you’re using a computer. Have a look at the manufacturer’s website for more information. Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have added security offerings that you can look into.

4. Protect with passwords

The more robust your security is, the harder it is for hackers to get in. So, that means you shouldn’t use the same password more than once, and they should be a mix of characters – upper case, lower case, and numbers.

But, will all these super secure passwords – how do you remember them all? The struggle is real here, so consider using a password manager like the ones from Google or Apple. The bonus is you’ll be able to do a password check up and see if yours are safe or not. They’ll also tell you if it’s been shared in a data leak before.

That does mean, though, that your password manager password must be mega, mega, secure. Same goes for your emails. If they are cracked, you leave lots of accounts exposed.

Finally – have a look at two-face authentication. You can turn this on for many of your social media accounts, or download a separate app.

5. Sense check – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is

Have you ever seen the price of something online and thought wow that’s so cheap? It could be a sign that it’s not legitimate.

There are lots of products for sale online that are unsafe, untested, and un-regulated. In a recent Which investigation, 66% of the 250 products they purchased and tested were dangerous and unsafe.

Another way to protect yourself is to always sleep on it before you buy. According to User Interface Engineering, impulse purchases account for almost 40% of all money spent online. Try to only search for products you need, rather than casually browsing lots of items.

6. Shop now, pay later?

While this is completely legitimate and not a scam, in terms of looking after your budget and safeguarding against overspending – we think Buy Now, Pay Later awareness is key.

Buy Now, Pay Later schemes can be extremely tempting, and often positioned as just another payment method. You might recognise them as Klarna, Clearpay and Laybuy. The issue? Well, you may not actually be able to afford the payments, and they’re pretty easy to get. And, missing payments – which is quite easy since you don’t always know when they’ll come out of your account – comes with consequences.

7. Know where to get help

If you are worried about online fraud when shopping, or have been affected by an online scam, get in touch with Action Fraud immediately. They’ll be able to investigate your situation and involve the police if necessary.