Shopping online does not have to be dangerous or scary.

As South Africa fights to get through the third COVID-19 wave, people are encouraged to stay home and shop online to avoid exposure to the virus via queues and physical contact.

In the past, shopping online would have been a challenge because not a lot of retailers offered e-commerce platforms.

Luckily, over the past year, more local retailers have joined the digital world and improved the safety and convenience of their e-commerce platforms.

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However, some people might still be apprehensive about shopping online.

The founder of the online payment gateway PayFast Jonathan Smit has shared some advice on how to stay safe when making payments online through your phone or computer.

“Before making any online purchase, your first priority is to verify the legitimacy of the merchant you’re buying from,” said Smit.

Doing the research beforehand can save you the trouble of trying to get your money back after you’ve paid, which is considerably more difficult,” he added.

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The company suggests taking the following safety precautions when shopping online:

Only make purchases through secure websites

Ensure that you are on a secure domain before entering any confidential information such as your payment details. Look out for the ‘S’ in HTTPS at the start of the website’s URL, which is found in the address bar at the top of your browser. Depending on what browser you use, you will see a padlock on the left-hand side in the address bar.

Read the returns and refund policy

The merchant is responsible for dealing with your order. If an issue occurs with your order, such as if you decide to cancel your order or it never arrives, you should know what your rights are and how you can expect the merchant to assist.

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Read customer reviews

Take a look at comments on the merchant’s social media pages and read customer reviews on Google to ensure that the company has a good history of delivering products as promised. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Check out using secure payment options

Look up reviews on the payment options on offer, before committing to checkout. You should always choose to checkout and pay with a payment method that you are familiar with and trust.

Don’t store your credit card information in a browser

When shopping online you may be prompted to save your card details. This could be either a pop-up message within your browser or when checking out on an e-commerce website. By doing this, you could risk exposing your cardholder details to other users of the device or put yourself at risk if the device is stolen.

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Save cardholder details to Payment Card Industry (PCI) verified merchant websites

Many websites give you an option to save your details with a tokenised ‘single-click’ style payment facility, to speed up the checkout process on future purchases.

This is considered safe when the site you are using is PCI accredited, or if they hand off these requirements to a PCI DSS Level 1 payment processor, such as PayFast.

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“Besides offering a convenient and time-saving way to make purchases, online shopping provides customers with an opportunity to support their favourite local stores, without putting anyone at risk.

“It’s up to us as consumers to play our part in fighting the third wave of COVID-19 – this is one of the simplest ways to do so,” concludes Smit.