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Save money and stay safe in the Boxing Day and January sales

How to find the best deals and swerve the scams from the comfort of your sofa

If you’re primed for a spot of armchair shopping while the Christmas bloat subsides, follow these tips from Which? to make the most of the online sales while keeping your money secure.  

Online shopping is generally safe as well as convenient but you do need to keep your wits about you to avoid paying over the odds or falling for a scam.

It’s all too easy to clone genuine websites and disguise web addresses that trick you into thinking you’re shopping on a legitimate site.

Here, we explain how to shop safely and cut costs.


Check the web address carefully

Be extra careful when you click on links via emails, social media and Google ads.

Hover your mouse over the top of email links without clicking to see the genuine address, as below. If it doesn’t match the content promised it could be malicious.

Watch out for absurdly long URLs, particularly on smaller devices such as a mobile phone or tablet.

One tip is to look between the protocol (https://) and the first single slash (/) and work backwards to identify the unique domain name.

For example, we’ve highlighted the real domain here https://login.pay.pal-acc.com/signin which could easily look like a genuine Paypal site.

Conversely, shortened URLs designed to save limited text space can be used by attackers to hide malicious sites – you can check the expanded version using sites such as checkshorturl.com.

Ads that show up when you shop via your chosen search engine should also be treated with caution – scam sites can and do pay for ads to attract victims.

Don’t assume a padlock means you’re safe

A padlock and https (rather than http) doesn’t mean that a site is automatically safe.

While you should never enter sensitive details on sites without one – the padlock tells you that the connection is encrypted – it doesn’t tell you anything about the content or intentions of the site.

In the phishing example below, the web address was chosen to resemble that of the legitimate House of Fraser website and the site was set up to steal card details.

Criminals can create sites with secure connections to add an air of legitimacy so go through this seven-step scam checklist and watch our video on spotting a scam site, even where you see a padlock.

Avoid counterfeit goods

Smartphones and high-end trainers, shoes and jewellery are the most counterfeited items online.

If a price is too good to be true, think twice.

Not only do you risk paying for dangerous items, such as electrical goods that don’t meet safety standards, but your details may be used to register websites selling fakes in your name.

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) department of the City of London Police told Which? it once found a record 761 websites that were set up using the stolen identity of someone who had bought counterfeit items online.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Group has put together a number of tips on how to avoid buying fakes online.

The Which? Money Podcast

How to get the best of the sales

1. Compare prices at a glance

Take the time to shop around for the same items at different retailers before you buy.

Google Shopping is a good starting point, comparing prices across major retailers as well as marketplaces, with filters that allow you to view the results by price, retailer, etc.

To be extra thorough, you can use another ‘shopbot’, such as Kelkoo and Pricerunner.

If you spot a bargain on a lesser-known retailer you may be able to ask a more established brand to match that price, for example, John Lewis and Currys PC World both offer a ‘price guarantee’ to match rivals with a lower price on the same products.

2. Subscribe to email lists and membership clubs

Most retailers want to at least appear to reward loyalty so signing up for newsletters can mean you’re the first to know about discount codes and in-store promotions.

While it’s convenient to have just the one email address for everything, we recommend setting up several for different purposes, for example, a private email that you never divulge online; another for sites you trust; and a third for sites you’ve never used before.

Aggregator sites such as Love the Sales can save you time, by pulling together the sales of hundreds of retailers in one place.

3. Read reliable reviews

If it’s your first time buying from a website, read independent reviews before you buy.

Which? has exposed the tricks sellers use to post fake reviews on Amazon and found Facebook groups that incentivise product reviews on a huge scale.

Look for real, unbiased reviews from independent sources.

Find out more: How to spot a fake review 

4. Pay safely

If you’re buying something from an online marketplace, never communicate with sellers outside of the site and don’t pay via bank transfer – it’s much harder to get your money back if the goods don’t arrive or turn out to be fake.

Pay using your credit card if the goods cost more than £100 as you’ll benefit from Section 75 protection. Or, use a debit card which means you can ask your bank to raise a Visa Dispute or ‘chargeback’.

5. Get cashback 

Use a cashback website or a cashback credit card to earn a percentage of what you spend back with certain retailers.

Check with your current account provider too as a number of banks and building societies offer cashback and discounts to their customers.

In some cases, you’ll need to log in to online banking to select the offers you want (eg Barclays, Lloyds and Santander) while other banks have a separate website such as First Direct’s ‘Visa Offers’ and NatWest’s ‘MyRewards’.

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