There is nothing to kick-start the festive season like searching for the perfect gifts. The convenience of online shopping offers a stress- and hassle-free shopping experience. However, consumers must protect their personal information and take care when buying on the Web.

“There are various ways that fraudsters can obtain the personal information that will allow them to defraud consumers through card not present (CNP) fraud,” says Charlaine Albertyn from Cheque and Debit Card Fraud at FNB Core Banking Solutions Risk Management.

Albertyn adds that card numbers, the expiry date and CVV numbers can easily be written down by fraudsters when a customer purchases goods at a merchant or restaurant or information can be acquired from non-secure Websites and spoofing e-mails with a technique referred to as Phishing.

“There are many other more sophisticated ways in which fraudsters can obtain your card data, and we constantly have to stay current in terms of the latest fraud trends so that we can protect our customers and educate them.”

Phishing occurs when an e-mail, that looks as though it comes from a trusted source such as a bank or retailer, is sent by fraudsters to trick consumers into divulging their personal information. A phishing e-mail contains a link to a spoofed Website (a Website that looks legitimate) where users are tricked into thinking they have to provide their personal or banking details in order to update their information, be refunded or redeem cash prizes.

Personal information can also be intercepted on no-name Web stores, built purely to gather information.

Albertyn offers from online shopping safety tips:

* Shop at online stores you know and trust. You can do this by making sure that the site has a padlock displayed on the page and by checking the overall functionality of the site.

* Before sharing payment details, be certain that the URL begins with “https://”. The “s” at the end of the “http” confirms that the site has a secure connection.

* Look out for 3D Secure (Verified by Visa), a free service that allows you to use an additional personal password to protect your Visa card when you shop online.

* Register for security systems that will protect whilst transacting; for example Verified by Visa or additional safety programmes such as Webroot.

* Clean your browser often from its history, cookies and saved passwords.

* Never allow your computer to remember any password even if it is your Login details on an online retail store.

“Windows that pop up on your screen indicating that you stand a chance to win or e-mails that take you directly to a bank’s landing page should be avoided,” says Albertyn.

Users should also remember some additional information, she says:

* The bank will never ask you to fill out any of your personal information in an e-mail.

* The bank will never send you a link to a Web page from which you have to log in (these sites are often misleading as they look exactly like your bank’s Web site).

* Make sure your anti-virus and spyware is up to date.

* Do not just click on pop-up windows as scammers use pop-up ads and real looking Websites to steal personal information.

* Test the Website for overall functionality and check for any errors on the page.

* Always type your bank’s Web site in the URL toolbar.

To avoid having large amounts withdrawn from your account in the event that you are defrauded, remember to lower your daily online payment limit and to contact your bank immediately should you suspect fraud, Albertyn adds.