Everyone is abuzz with talk of online shopping. It’s simple and much less inconvenient than a trip to the mall. It puts an incredible amount of choice at your fingertips. Regardless of the benefits, there are certain things you should do and avoid when it comes to your money and safety. When it comes to safe shopping, street smarts apply both online and offline. That is amplified online.
Online shoppers, like those in the physical world, are aware of their surroundings. They are familiar with the reputations of the locations where they conduct business. They keep an eye on their wallets and are aware of who may be scrutinizing them a little too closely.
Conduct some research. A website can be created by anyone. If you come across an unfamiliar company while shopping, find out who they are. Attempt to locate an address. Be suspicious of any business that does not list one. While an address does not guarantee anything, it can be used to verify references with the Better Business Bureau, or BBB. Their online directory, located at http://bbb.org/, includes listings for locations throughout the United States.
Occasionally, you may require additional information than the BBB provides. In this case, use your preferred search engine and perform a “about search” after the BBB check. The distinction between a “about search” and simply looking for a website is that you already know where the website is located; now you want to learn what others are saying about it. Generally, simply adding “about” to the beginning of the company name will suffice.
You may wish to omit all of this investigation for a very small purchase. However, use a credit card with a low limit. That way, if something does go wrong, it will not be catastrophic. While we are all aware of the $50 liability limit, the low limit card can be a time saver when shopping online.
You may elect to never use a debit card online. Numerous debit card issuers do not provide the same level of fraud protection as credit card companies. You could be jeopardizing the security of your entire bank account.
While you’re there, review the return policy and guarantee. Both online and offline, the majority of reputable businesses accept returns, either in the form of a cash refund or a product exchange. However, please keep in mind that shipping costs are typically not refunded on online purchases.
After you’ve located exactly what you’re looking for and verified the seller’s legitimacy and return policy, the next step is to ensure the site is secure. Secure means that the seller’s server encrypts your personal information during transmission. This protects your credit information from unauthorized (hacker) access and possible misuse.
Examine the address bar’s URL. If the site is encrypted, you will see a “s” immediately following the http – for example, https://… While the entire site will not be encrypted, the transaction’s order page should be.
Additionally, depending on your browser, you may see an open or closed padlock, as well as a complete or broken key. If the key has been broken or the lock has been opened, you can assume that the site is not encrypted.
At times, security issues can be perplexing. Assume you know the owner personally and this is a reputable local business, but there is no encryption in place and they expect you to transmit your credit card information online. While this is frequently the case with small businesses, it does not mean that you do not know better. In these instances, look for a phone number and place your order over the phone. If there is no phone number or mailing address, you should reconsider risking an unsecured transaction.
Online and offline, common sense is the rule. Protect your personal information, such as your Social Security Number, banking information, and passwords. No reputable merchant requires your Social Security Number, and it is not customary to be asked for it when purchasing groceries, for example. Requiring this for an everyday purchase should raise an alarm. You should immediately relocate your business. Some will use any means possible, including official-looking disguises, to entice you to provide private personal information. If you contact them, they may personally confirm that they do require your bank account and password in order to sell you that CD. No way, just because something appears to be in order and they sound sincere does not mean that it is or that they are, and you may be unaware that there was ever a problem until you receive your credit report.
The final and most important rule is to maintain duplicates of everything. Print the pages that contain the description and price of the items you’ve ordered. Take a printout of your credit card statement. The majority of businesses will also email you a copy. Keep that as well, and double-check that it corresponds to your online information.
Additionally, keep in mind that if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is. Allow the allure of the offer to lull you into abandoning your sound judgement. Of course, you risk missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime deal, which is precisely what the unscrupulous want you to believe. Almost certainly, both online and offline, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
While shopping on the internet is destined to change the way we do business, it is still a new frontier fraught with uncertainty. The only way to truly be secure online is to develop your street smarts, which is not always sufficient. It will certainly level the playing field, and if you keep your cyber skills sharp, you should be able to shop safely on the internet.