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Be cyber safe this year with online Christmas shopping

BRAVING a shopping centre in December is a step too far for many of us. We prefer the comfort of home, the click of a mouse and delivery to the door.

Research has shown that we'll spend €257m online in the run up to Christmas and Visa will handle a staggering 7,000 transactions every minute across the EU as consumers flex their credit card.

Getting a bargain is all very well, but this week we're focusing on being cyber-safe.

How do you know you're dealing with a bona fide company? Will they deliver on time? What if it's a scam? What about taxes or returns?

Our table shows where to complain if it all goes wrong.

Dermot Williams, IT security expert from Threatscape has tips for safe shopping:

•Install good anti-virus and firewall measures on your PC and be wary of Seasonal Spam from emailers you don't recognise. A Christmas "greeting card" may harbour a virus rather than good wishes.

•Look for the closed Padlock symbol in the address bar before committing credit card details. The address will change to https:// if it's safe. A "certificate error" message can mean it's a fake web page.

lKeep a printout of receipts and order confirmations.

lJust because a web address is .ie, doesn't mean it's Irish.

lIf you create a new online account create a unique hard-to-guess password.

•Read the small print to make sure you are happy with the retailer's policies on refunds, returns and privacy -- and check delivery charges.

Shopping online within the EU gives you exactly the same rights as shopping in Ireland from a high street store. A web trader, by law, must state their name and address, goods description, price including tax and delivery and the right to cancel the order. If it doesn't, don't buy.

If your goods don't arrive within 30 days you have a right to a refund under the 97/7/EC directive. The National Consumer Agency got 1350 complaints relating to online shopping last year and the majority were about non-delivery.

There are super bargains to be had from daily deal sites. But make sure the business exists in reality before purchasing.

There have been a number of instances where scam companies set up, collect the money and then disappear. You are entitled to a refund from the site owner if so -- it's their job to vet suppliers.

Buying from another country doesn't exempt you from Ireland's onerous VAT rate which is up to 23pc. You must pay it on goods and services irrespective of the country of purchase. Customs tax is payable on goods bought outside the EU. The first €150 is exempt, but thereafter it's 12pc on clothing, 17pc on shoes with VAT lumped on top of the total.

This is a hot issue with Revenue and you won't be given the goods until you pay up.

Gucci bag? Chanel perfume? If you're given these for Christmas you have a wealthy friend, or someone's been duped. Let price be your guide. If it's 50pc less than it would be in BTs, you're probably being had.

•Misspelled labels or web page content are an easily identifiable trait of fake goods.

•Sellers of fake goods may be vague about product origins or try and explain away price differences with exchange rates. Ask questions.

•Pirate DVDs and console games are usually poor quality and may not work at all or only play in machines specifically altered or chipped to play pirated material. Chipping a machine invalidates its warranty.

•Recently released DVDs are encoded to be watched only in certain countries or 'regions'. DVDs advertised as region free' or 'Region 0,' are often counterfeit.