Making Shopping Online as Enjoyable and Safe as Shopping at the Mall

With just a click of your mouse, you can buy virtually any product online―from electronics to gifts, clothing, food, and even cars and homes. The Internet has made it possible for consumers to shop at literally thousands of online stores, browse through dozens of products to find just what they’re looking for, and pay for their purchases without ever leaving home. For many people, e-commerce has completely replaced a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall.

There used to be many inherent flaws and risks associated with online shopping. Computer glitches caused orders to get lost, and poor customer service made it impossible to get problems resolved. Shoppers would often be at the mercy of cybercrooks always on the prowl to take advantage of their naivety and cheat them. But in recent years, e-commerce has become much more safe and secure, thanks to the growing competition of online shops, the security services that rate e-commerce sites, more advanced encryption technology, and shoppers increased Internet savvy. Things can still go wrong, but there are several things you can control that will make your online shopping experience a good one.

Shop at only secure websites.
Secure e-commerce sites use encryption technology to transfer information from your computer to the merchant’s computer. Encryption scrambles the information you send, such as address, phone number, and credit card numbers, to prevent hackers from obtaining the information as it travels from your computer to the store’s computer. The only people who can unscramble the encryption are those who have legitimate access privileges. Usually you can tell if a website is secure if the URL of the site begins with https://. The ‘s’ at the end indicates that the website is secure. You may not actually see the ‘s’ until you proceed to the actual order page of the website.

Research the website before you place an order.
Online stores that also have an established brick-and-mortar presence, such as Target, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and others, have websites that are very safe and secure. If the company is unfamiliar to you, do your homework before you trust them with your personal information. Reliable companies should display a physical business address and at least one telephone number. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine whether the business is legitimate. Ask any questions you may have, such as how they handle returns or complaints. You can also research a company by visiting ratings sites such as epinions.com, where other online shoppers write posts detailing their experiences with online shopping sites.

Read the website’s security policies and privacy statement.
Every reputable online shopping site provides information about how it processes your order, and what it does with the information it collects from you. The privacy policies should tell you what type of information they gather, what they do with it, and whether or not it will be shared with other companies. Often the merchant’s data security practices are also explained in the Privacy Policy. Look for online merchants who are members of a program that gives a seal of approval to safe online shopping sites. TRUSTe, Verisign, and BBBonline are the most commonly seen programs. Be aware that a security policy and a seal of approval do not guarantee that a merchant will protect the privacy of your information indefinitely. You may have little control over your information if the company files for bankruptcy, sells its customer database, is purchased by another company, or has to give up its customer information for law enforcement investigations.

Use a credit card if at all possible.
The safest way to shop online is with a credit card, because if something goes wrong you are protected. The federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you don’t have to pay anything on the balance while an investigation is being conducted. If it is determined that your card number was used without your authorization, you are responsible for only the first $50 in charges, but credit card companies rarely enforce this. The best approach to online shopping is to use only one credit card for all online purchases, so it will be easier for you to detect incorrect charges. Make sure the card is a true credit card and not a debit card, check card, or ATM card. Shopping by check is never a good idea, since it leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud, and sending a money order doesn’t give you any protection if you have problems with the purchase. Debit and ATM cards are not protected by federal laws the way credit cards are.

Never, ever give out your Social Security number or information not related to your purchase.
There is never any reason for an online merchant to ask for your Social Security number, so if they do, this should be a huge red flag to you. Giving out your Social Security number could lead to having your identity stolen. Additionally, some online merchants try to get more information about you to target you for marketing purchases. You don’t need to provide information about your other interests, lifestyle, or annual income. Usually websites will mark with an asterisk the questions you are required to answer in order to make your purchase, but if a company requires information you aren’t comfortable in providing, then don’t order from them.

Always print out a copy of your order.
After you place an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that details your entire order, including charges, customer information you provided, product information, and a confirmation or order number. You should print out at least one copy of this page, as well as the page showing the company’s name, address, phone number, and return policy. You may also receive a confirmation message in your e-mail, and you should save and/or print this message as well.

Pay attention to the company’s shipping information and return policies.
A company must ship your order within the time stated in their ad. If no time frame is stated, the merchant must ship the product within 30 days, or give you the option of canceling the order and receiving a refund. Be sure to review the choices offered for shipping, and be sure you know the shipping and handling fees before you place the order. Find out how the merchant handles returns or complaints, and whether or not you will get a full refund if there is a problem with your order.

Last but not least―listen to your gut instinct.
If, while browsing through an online store’s information, you get a feeling that you shouldn’t shop there, don’t ignore those warning bells. There is much truth to the adage that if something doesn’t sound right, then it probably isn’t.

One of the best rules you can follow is to shop only with companies located in the United States, so you will have some legal recourse if your purchase results in a problem. When you shop within the U.S. you are protected by state and federal consumer laws. You might not get the same protection if you order something from a company located in another country.

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Not just the trend of buying goods and availing services online, but even the frauds associated with it are on rise. Technological advancement has given a major boost to e-commerce and other similar concepts, which revolve around computers and, more importantly, the Internet. The concept of online shopping is no more alien to anybody in the world.

Millions of people log onto shopping websites in order to make shopping a convenient affair. What they fail to understand though, is the fact that they are compromising on their security by not abiding by the rules that they need to follow. With so many cases of online frauds coming to light every other day, it is surprising to see people go on an online shopping spree without paying heed to their security.

Online Shopping Safety Tips

Online shopping fraud is a broad concept, which includes a range of activities, right from hidden charges and phishing to credit card scams and identity theft. Given below are some simple precautions that you can take to keep yourself safe.

Carry out your transactions from a secured PC: You need to make sure that the PC you are using for shopping online and related transactions is up-to-date with security measures, like anti-virus software and firewall. Being one of the most important advice as far as safe online shopping is concerned, this will help you keep those malicious programs out of your transactions.

Be well-versed with the website you use: You need to make sure that the website from which you are buying goods or availing services is authentic. Never go to random sites that feature in search engine results, or ones that you have never heard of before. Always go for popular websites, as the chances of you getting caught in any sort of web of deceit on such websites are negligent.

Never give away your personal information: You will have to provide some information while shopping online, however, you need to make sure that this is just the general information, like your name or contact number. Never give out confidential information, like your social security number, on online shopping websites. More importantly, never fill in any sort of information in pop-up windows, even if you trust the website. Maintaining privacy while shopping online is a must, as giving away confidential information can make you vulnerable to identity theft.

Go through the privacy policy of the company: A trusted website is bound to have its privacy policy covering all the points whereby the website would be legally bound to keep your personal details confidential and giving away the same to the third party would mean breach of contract with possible legal implications. If any website doesn’t have their privacy policy in place, it is better off to stay away from it.

Paying by credit card is wiser: Always resort to credit card for payment options. Though many of us prefer to use debit cards for shopping online, they don’t have all the security features that credit cards do. More importantly, if your debit card number gets stolen, it will give hackers total access to your account and result in even more difficult situations for you.

Before you order the product: You need to make sure that the transactions are secured and the shipping policy of the company is in the place. Cross checking the actual price of the product and the shipping charges with other companies can help you get the best deal. Make sure that there are no hidden costs in the shipping charges. You will have to take into consideration the actual price of the item as well as shipping charges, handling fees, and sales tax.

After you order the product: Never reply to confirmation mails which ask for your personal details. Make sure that you take the print outs of all the online transaction records, which you can eventually use as proof. Other than all your transactions with the company, it is wise to save the product description as well. Lastly, you will have to monitor the time required for shipping. It is very important to get well-versed with terms and conditions before you buy any product online.

If, by chance, you do end up having a bad experience, you can report the company to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the consumer protection agency in your area of jurisdiction. Considering that there are a number of phishing websites out there in the guise of shopping websites, it will take efforts from all of us to come together and make online shopping safe and secure.
Read more at Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/safe-online-shopping-tips.html