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Does a green padlock mean a website’s safe?

What the green padlock really means - and why it might not be what you think

A Barclays advert which told people to check for a padlock before buying something online has been deemed misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The television advert screened in December 2017 and featured a robot who pointed to a website URL featuring a green padlock and said: ‘Right, before you pay, look for a padlock and always check the seller’s genuine. You don’t want to get scammed by a fake site.’

The advert received 15 complaints from people who challenged whether the advert misleadingly implied websites with green padlocks were guaranteed to be safe.

We have a free guide that outlines eight easy steps to spotting a fake, fraudulent or scam website.

What the green padlock means

The green padlock in a website URL is present to tell you a bit about the website’s coding and security – webpages which have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) properly installed have a green padlock next to the URL.

You’ll also see they have the more secure https:// prefix instead of http://.

Generally, a green padlock means the website you’re viewing is secure – but cyber criminals have found ways to get fake security certificates. So, even if a site has a padlock, it still could be a scam.

Looking for the padlock should only be one of many other checks you should do (see below for more).

Find out more: read our Which? Money investigation into which banks are the best and worst at handling fraud complaints.

Why the ASA ruled the advert misleading

In its response to the complaints, Barclays said the advice to check for a padlock had been given by a number of authorities – including Action Fraud – and was given in tandem with the instruction to ‘always check the seller’s genuine’.

A Barclays spokesperson said: ‘We apologise for not being clearer in one of our fraud awareness TV adverts.

‘We always advise that people make multiple checks before purchasing online, and remain absolutely committed to arming people with the tools and information they need to stay safe from online fraudsters.

‘Last year we prevented £857m of fraud, and engaged 5 million people through our Digital Safety campaign, including hosting 3,080 free awareness events.’

The bank said they believed the advert made it clear that additional steps were necessary and didn’t make any safety guarantees.

But the ASA considered consumers were generally unlikely to have a detailed understanding of the website padlock symbol and the general steps required to ensure a website was safe.

The ASA’s assessment said: ‘Because the ad suggested that a padlock guaranteed that a website was safe when a padlock in an address bar did not protect from online shopping scams or payment fraud, we concluded the ad was misleading.’

How to make sure a website is legitimate

If you haven’t used the site before, make sure you spend a few minutes to double-check the site – try the ‘about’ section.

If there’s poor English, it could mean the site isn’t genuine.

You should also check its online reviews on sites like Trustpilot or Sitejabber and keep an eye out for any red flags. It’s also worth reading the site’s returns policy.

Make sure you don’t put all your faith in a green padlock – use it as just one of your measures to judge a website’s authenticity.

See our tips to get your money back if you’ve been scammed.

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