Online shopping risk

The risks of online shopping and how to stay safe

Updated: 02/11/2023

Online shopping has grown in popularity over the last decade. In 2021, e-retail sales accounted for over $5.2 trillion worldwide, and the projections show that by 2026 almost a quarter of all sales will be done online. Online shopping is quicker, easier, and offers consumers greater choice than regular shops.

However, it is not without its risks. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, cases of fraud and cybercrime in the UK and across the world have risen sharply. In 2021, over £1.3 billion was stolen, with purchase scams – in which the victim is conned into buying something that does not exist – accounting for nearly £65 million of the total figure.

So, while the internet provides shoppers with a cornucopia of products that can be on their doorstep in just a few days (or even hours), it also provides con artists and scammers with more opportunities to grift and exploit unsuspecting internet users.

But fear not, as there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you stay safe when shopping online. We are going to look at some of the risks of online shopping and what you can do to protect yourself.

How do you stay safe when shopping online?

Online shopping comes with risks, but if you are vigilant and aware of the dangers, you can stay safe. Stick to the following guidelines to ensure you remain as safe and secure as possible:

  • Avoid making payments on public WiFi
  • Use a prepaid card such as a Getsby virtual card
  • Install anti-virus software
  • Don’t click on links in emails
  • Look at the safety features of the website
  • Check the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies.

So let’s jump in and take a closer look at some of the risks of online shopping.

What are the risks of online shopping?

Risks when online shopping include:

  • Identity fraud
  • Fake stores
  • Data breaches
  • Fake reviews
  • Adware
  • Phishing
  • Unencrypted data

We will explore how to overcome these risks in greater detail later on, but let’s take a closer look at each of them and the threats they pose.

Identity fraud

Online identity fraud or identity theft involves cybercriminals hacking a user’s login or card details and using them to make online purchases on e-commerce websites. The cybercriminal may also sell the user’s personal details to other online criminals to use for fraudulent purchases.

Fake stores

The freedom of the internet allows anyone to set up a website with relative ease and little investment. While this is great for democratizing the web and the digital landscape, it also means that scammers and nefarious actors can set up fake online stores.

Many of these fake online stores look and feel just like legitimate ones, as they often use the same copy, design, and layout. But the reality is, if you make a purchase, you will either never receive the product, or you will be sent a low-quality fake.

Fake stores can open and close within 24 hours, so there may be little trace of the website left online by the time you realize you have been scammed.

Data breaches

When shopping online, you almost always share the following things at a minimum: your contact information, address, and bank details. If an e-commerce site is hacked, your details could be exposed, which would represent a data breach.

Fake reviews

One of the main downsides of buying anything online is that you cannot examine the product before you buy it. While you can always return any items you buy, you will often have to pay a postage and packaging fee to make the return.

Many online shoppers read reviews of products before they make a purchase to see what previous customers have thought. However, you should be aware that many online reviews are fake and may even have been uploaded by the seller.


Adware is any popup ad that appears when you browse the internet. While adware can be legitimate, it can also be used for fraudulent purposes by cybercriminals seeking to divert you to malicious sites or infect your system with malware and computer viruses.


Phishing is when scammers send fraudulent emails that look as if they are from genuine retailers or other senders. The email usually contains a link or attachment that infects the user’s computer with a virus when clicked.

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Tips for staying safe when shopping online

When shopping online, you can ensure that you remain as safe and secure as possible by adhering to the following online shopping safety tips.

Use a prepaid card

Unlike a regular credit or debit card, a prepaid card is not linked to a bank account. Instead, when you use a prepaid card, you are only able to use the money you have put on the card from another account.

Prepaid cards use payment tokenization in which a user’s sensitive information is protected by a surrogate for their real account details. If a hacker manages to hack a system, they will only have access to the money on your prepaid card, which can be as little or as much as you like.

Getsby’s prepaid card is also 3D secure, which means it requires additional authentication steps when making online payments, further heightening the security of the card.


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Don’t follow links in emails

If you receive a promotional or any other type of email from an online retailer, do not follow any links within it, as it could be a phishing scam. Even if the email looks as if it is from a reputable retailer, there are clever scammers out there who can craft design and copy to make it appear legitimate.

If there is a link redirecting you to a website, it is best to find the stores via a search engine and then log in to the store and find the information you need on the site.

Download anti-virus software

Anti-virus software can detect malware and trackers on suspicious sites and warn you before entering them. You should always install any updates that come with the anti-virus software, as hackers and cybercriminals can take advantage of software that isn’t up to date.

Don’t use public WiFi for online shopping

Public WiFi networks can be great if you want to catch up on some emails or finish off some work in a cafe or on a train.

However, you should never do anything that involves sharing sensitive information while accessing a public WiFi network because they are particularly vulnerable to hackers. This includes buying things online, even if your card details and delivery information are pre-stored.

If you are in a public place and need to use the internet to buy something or share other sensitive information, you should wait until you can access a secure internet connection that is not public, or try using your mobile data either on your phone or as an internet hotspot. Both options are far more secure than a public WiFi network.

Change your passwords

You should use strong passwords that are different for each of your online accounts. In 2019, 23.2 million people were hacked worldwide because they had the password 123456.

Your passwords should contain a collection of letters, numbers, and symbols, and they should be different for each site. A good tip is to use the first letter of each word for a sentence you won’t forget. For example, if your grandmother was called Dorothy and she was born in February 1945, your memorable sentence could be:

  • Was my grandmother Dorothy born in February 1945?

And the password would then look like this:

  • WmgDbiF1945?

As you can see, the password looks like complete gobbledegook to an outsider, but for you, it represents an easily memorable sentence.

Update your computer

Keeping your computer’s operating system updated is important for ensuring that it is protected from viruses and malware. Hackers are able to find weak spots in operating systems that they can exploit and then infiltrate your computer. So be sure to stay on top of all the updates your computer needs.

Check the site’s security

A simple but effective way to check a site’s security is to keep an eye out for the padlock symbol in the left corner of the URL address bar. This is known as the “secure sockets layer” and lets you know that the site you are on is safe.

Also, when buying anything online, check that the website address begins with “https” rather than “http.” The additional S stands for secure.

Check the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies

Another way of checking the authenticity of a site is to read the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies. You should be able to find these on the website, either before you pay or in the webpage footer.

If there are no Terms & Conditions or a Privacy Policy, or if they are there but are suspiciously short, contain spelling and grammar mistakes, or are filled with random text, then you should not trust the site nor make a purchase on it.

Only shop online with retailers you trust

Only shopping with retailers you trust means you should stay on sites you are familiar with rather than buying products on unknown sites you haven’t heard of before.

Of course, you may find something you want to buy that is only available on a niche website you have not encountered. If this happens, perform some of the following checks to ensure the site is legitimate:

  • Check for the lock symbol and the https prefix, as outlined above.
  • Read the copy on the site and check for spelling mistakes or obvious grammatical errors, as this could be a sign that the site may not be trustworthy.
  • Check the social media pages – if there are any – that are affiliated with the site.
  • Check for customer reviews – but remember that not all reviews are trustworthy!
  • Read the returns policy. If the site doesn’t have a returns policy, a contact number or email address, or a physical address, these are all red flags that could indicate the site is not to be trusted, and you should look elsewhere.

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How else can prepaid cards help your online shopping experience?

As we have seen, prepaid cards such as Getsby can ensure you have a secure online shopping experience. But did you know that there are many other benefits to prepaid cards?

For example, prepaid cards can help you to budget and spend wisely. Because you have to upload money onto the card, you can set yourself a monthly limit for how much you want to spend online. Instead of having all the money you have in your current account at your disposal, you will only have the money you have set aside for online spending that month, week, or year.

Getsby’s prepaid cards also don’t charge currency transaction fees. This means you can buy products or services from abroad and not be charged extra for converting from one currency to another.

Getsby cards can be used at any retailer that accepts Mastercard payments. So, unlike many other secure prepaid cards, a Getsby card gives you access to millions of stores worldwide. You can even use your Getsby card for in-person shopping by linking it to your Apple or Google Pay account.

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Despite there being risks, you should be able to shop safely online, provided you exercise the necessary precautions and remain vigilant for any red flags. Keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious, be wary of following links, and download anti-virus software to alert you to potential threats. Also, consider paying with a prepaid card to keep your bank details offline and to limit the amount of money that can be stolen if you do get hacked.