Shopping online can be very convenient and easy for anyone with a computer and a credit card. You can shop 24 hours a day seven days a week, looking for anything from a cat shaped cookie jar to a new computer. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy an item online since many sites do not charge sales tax and offer free shipping. However, while purchasing items online may be convenient it is important to take several safety precautions to protect you identity and finances.
Begin with the end in mind! Shop from a secure PC. Before you shop online, make sure your system is running with up-to-date anti-virus software, you have the latest software security updates installed and you are using a firewall to block potential intruders. If you don’t, your internet shopping excursion could end in phishing, key-logging malware, or destruction of your system!
Do your research. Avoid “search-engine shopping”, try to stick with merchants you know, you trust, or have been validated by others you trust. Remember – anyone can set up a shop online under almost any name! Don’t be “duped” by sound-a-likes (i.e. Craigslist is actually .org NOT .com – great way to lead you to a false or deceptive site). NEVER buy anything advertised via unsolicited email.
If you have not heard of the company before or just want to make sure you are choosing the right company for you, go to www.bbbonline.org. This website allows consumers to check out a list of online companies and see if they have a seal of approval. Research how long the company has been in business and see if they have a good history.
Be very cautious if the website which you are purchasing from has spelling and grammatical errors. Some fake websites are created by scammers overseas. Just because the website looks polished doesn’t prove a company’s quality or good reputation.
What’s the Policy? Review the return, refund, shipping and handling policies carefully. Merchants may permit returns and refunds, but charge you for shipping both ways! Some sites offer prices that are too good to be true but their shipping/handling costs will make up for the low pricing! The FTC requires sellers to ship items as promised OR within 30 days after the order date – or offer you the right to cancel without any charge.
Is your purchase Secure? Always look at the address box when paying to see if there is an “s” in https:// and a “lock” symbol in the lower-right corner. If you have any doubts about the website right click anywhere on the page and select “Properties”. This lets you see the real URL and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted. If the website is not secured, that could mean you are on a website which looks official but in actuality it is a phisher. Keep your browser updated for an additional layer of security.
Pay by credit or charge card. When buying online, payments using credit card protects your transaction by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances. In addition, the credit card issuer can only hold customers liable for the first $50 of fraudulent transactions in the event your shopping trip takes you to a bogus site. Never shop at sites asking you to wire your payment or send money orders – it’s money spent and never returned!
Get it in writing – keep a paper trail. Once you are finished ordering there is sometimes a final confirmation page or a confirmation email. It is smart to save a copy of the web page and any emails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
Phishing. Ignore any emails concerning possible problems with your order or account that ask for financial information. If you do get such an email call the contact number listed for the website to see if there really was a problem with the transaction. Phishers are simply trying to get your personal information.
Discount Coupons. Coupons on the web can vary from free shipping to 25% your entire order. Use established online coupon sites such as couponcabin.com and currentcodes.com.
For more information about making purchases online go to www.bbb.org.