Every year, we the consumer, spend billions of pounds and dollars on online shopping. Figures show the American e-commerce market alone amounts to 2.3 trillion dollars. It seems we cant enough of it, and the market is growing every year. Just like any thriving industry or platform, you will always come up against your opportunist thief trying to deprive you of your hard earned cash. And if you aren't savvy enough, it doesn’t take much of an opportunity to have access to all your important banking information or potential login details. Criminals will use a variety of tactics when scamming people, but as long as you know what to look out for and how to stay safe, then there is no reason you should be worried about online shopping and fraud.

The most common threats to your online shopping present themselves as ‘Phishing’ or plain old fashioned ‘identity theft’. Phishing will most commonly present itself to you via a well written and potentially convincing email. Full of promises and grandeur's that can be all to tempting for some people. Clicking away, you can quickly and unknowingly find your self on a fake e-commerce site ready to punch in all your details without realizing that you are actually being duped. Identity theft however requires a lot less shortcomings on your behalf as a computer user, as these types of attacks are targeted to a specific user.

Often identity theft happens via a Trojan or some form of computer virus, which sounds scary, but read on to find out how you can prevent this.

Stay Safe Online - The first tip we have in terms of staying safe online is a bit obvious, but if followed there is no reason to ever be worried. Stick to shops you know and recognize, and if you are unsure, all it takes is a bit of research. Google said company, try and find some reviews on the website and make an educated decision from there on. This advice isn't good news for independent websites lacking a strong eCommerce presence, but in general all it takes is a bit of common sense to decipher a legitimate business from one that is trying to scam you.

Another good indicator of a safe website is if you see HTTP in the web address bar, or a padlock symbol. HTTP is a protocol that encrypts data to prevent any forms of hacking taking place. If a website does not have either of these, then it may be a sign to be cautious. Likewise, if you see a padlock sign at the beginning of your search bar, which means the website is encrypted and safe to use.

Free Wifi? - Free wifi, often considered the holy grail of free internet browsing and social media updating. It’s always great finding free wifi when you are out and about, but can you always be certain of the source and intentions of the network? The short answer is no. Many hackers will set up free wifi destinations under the guise of a local coffee shop or shopping centre, unsuspectingly inviting users to share all of their personal information on an unsecured network. Make sure you know where the wifi is coming from, even if it means asking some form of staff member. Also with free wifi, even if it has come from a known and trusted source, its best to make sure you aren’t giving out any private information or banking information, just to be on the safe side.

Is your Software up to date? - A good antivirus will protect your computer from any spyware, malware or viruses that try to steal your information, so make sure yours is constantly up to date. Having protective software really does remove any seed of doubt when it comes to online shopping, so if you have found that one off special item from a site you've never seen before, then make sure you are using up to date software to protect yourself and any necessary checks have been carried out. If you don’t have the finances for good anti-virus software, then using a VPN service is just as effective. When choosing your anti-virus software, we recommend looking at companies like; Symantec/Norton and Kaspersky. These all cost around £40 a year subscription, which allows you to stay constantly ahead of the ever developing virus world. There are also plenty of free anti-virus software programmes out there, but they do not offer the same level of security or protection.

Using VPN service - A VPN service will encrypt all information that comes or goes from your device so that nobody but you can read it, basically hiding your online activities. Even on a potentially insecure network or open wifi, VPN will help protect private data from being targeted. VPN software comes in a variety of paid for and free services, it all depends on what level of cover you want and trustworthy in the functionality from a VPN.

Choosing an appropriate password - Most of us are stuck with our one or two main passwords that we flicker between, and we all know how much of a pain trying to remember multiple passwords is. But in terms of security, you ideally don’t want to make it too easy for criminals by using one password for all of your logins. Phrases are a good suggestion for passwords e.g ‘thequeensbreakfast’ as it removes any potential deciphering out of what your password may be. If you have chosen something totally random, it’s likely that anyone trying to hack you or your information is going to struggle. The obligatory apple password system of using upper and lower case letters with the odd number thrown in, also proves to be an effective password. The more variations in letters and upper to lower case combos you have, the chances of any password being hacked are low. There are also plenty of apps out there now that allow you to save different passwords for individual sites or programs, meaning you can have a multitude of passwords in one location that you will never forget. A good example of password protectors and storage is ‘Keeper’ which comes in a free version, or paid for version, both offer a good level of security.

One eye on the bank. - One sure fire way to stay ahead of any online attacks or theft of financial details, is to be in close communication with your bank. Whether you feel like you may be susceptible to, or you know you have been a target of an attack, the bank will have the best resources to start fixing any issues with your account. It’s also a good idea to be in contact with the bank should anything be stolen from your account as this will help with any insurance claims or rebates.

A lot of the best ways to stay safe while shopping online consist of being vigilante and wary. There are plenty of tools out there to help protect yourself, but your best protection is knowledge and to expect to the worst. You don’t have to be paranoid over every website you visit, or download every known antivirus software to man. Try to stay informed on the latest types of attacks and do your best to stay savvy and cautious.

If in doubt, use the old rule of thumb; if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.