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Seven Strategies For Safer Online Shopping

Oct 24, 2007
You say your shopping list is a mile long? You're short on time - and just a big wary of shopping in cyberspace?

Never fear! The Internet is the perfect solution for shopping emergencies. And with the holiday shopping season nearly upon us, it's a great time for a refresher course in online shopping safety. Shopping online is no more dangerous than shopping at the local mall, if you know what you're doing - and it's a lot easier to find a parking space!

The biggest worry about shopping online is fear that your credit card information will be lost or stolen. According to a June 2007 survey by J.C. Williams Group for MODASolutions, 80 percent of respondents indicated that the availability of "a safe and secure online payment option" was the most important factor when shopping online.

1.Learn to identify a secure website transaction.

Reputable online merchants use payment processing systems that automatically encrypt confidential data such as credit card numbers, making such information virtually impossible to steal. Fortunately, when you're shopping online, it's easy to tell whether or not your particular transaction is being processed securely

Here's how.

Once you get ready to check out, two things should happen. The first is that the beginning of the website's Internet address (URL) should change from http:// to https://. That "s" indicates that this section of the website is secure. (Don't worry if you don't see the "s" while you're still shopping and adding items to your online shopping cart. The transaction doesn't need to be secured until you're getting ready to check out and enter payment and personal information.)

You should also see a padlock image on the right side of the Internet Address bar if you're using Internet Explorer.

2.Shop from reputable merchants.

Knowing that a transaction is secure is one thing; knowing that the site's owners can be trusted is something else entirely. Choosing when to trust a website depends in part on who publishes the website, what information they want, and what you want from the site.

Look for well-known and respected online retailers such as Amazon.com or online versions of companies you already know and trust, such as JCPenney.com or OfficeDepot.com. Websites that are certified by Internet trust organizations such as TRUSTe, BBB Online and WebTrust are preferable, as well, since they promise to protect your privacy and not to use information in certain ways without your permission.

Be wary of sites that ask for personal information such as credit card numbers or bank information before they logically need it, and of sites that do not reveal phone numbers, email addresses or other ways to reach them for customer support.

3.Use a credit card for online shopping.

A credit card is much safer than a debit card when shopping online, since you're protected by provisions of the Fair Credit Billing Act (if you're a U.S. consumer) and since you can also dispute charges with the credit card company if you suspect a fraudulent transaction. For extra peace of mind, consider using a separate credit card for online shopping and monitor it carefully.

4.Don't save credit card numbers or personal information in any online store account.
Many online vendors ask you to create accounts so that it's easier for them to notify you of special offers. That's fine, if you're interested, but resist the lure of "convenience" by having them save your credit card information as well. The fewer people who have access to such confidential information, the better.

5.Use a separate email address.

Guard your privacy by using a separate, free email account for your online activity. If you're inundated with email or spammers get a hold of your email address, it's easy to discard the "freebie" email address and get a new one.

6.Keep all receipts.

When you shop online, you'll receive order confirmation messages and receipts via email. Double-check them for accuracy, and keep them - in a separate folder in your Inbox, perhaps - until you're certain that the order was processed correctly and that you will not need to return anything.

7.Trust your instincts.

If you're not sure of a website - if something strikes you as too good to be true, if the site seems unprofessional or downright pushy - just don't order from that merchant. With the millions of retailers available online, there's sure to be someone more reputable who has what you'd like to order - and they're only a click away!

No one can guarantee that every Internet shopping transaction will be problem-free, but adopting the previous commonsense strategies will make it highly unlikely that you'll be the victim of cyber fraud.
About the Author
Savvy Online Shopper Diana Ratliff is the author of The Insider's Guide to Shopping Online , a new guide to shopping safe and saving big online, Free Savvy Online Shopper course at her website, too. Order day, you'll be glad you did!
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