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Online Shopping Safety Tips

Friday, November 9th, 2007 by | Filed Under: Security Help, Using The Internet

As we all know, Christmas is right around the corner and I’m one who likes to start my shopping early. I’m planning on doing quite a bit of it online this year though and I was wondering if you could give me some safety tips. I haven’t done a lot of online shopping in the past, so I want to make sure I do it right. Thanks for any help you can give me!

You’re absolutely right, Christmas is only 45 days away! That hardly seems like any time at all and just like every other year, I’m sure it will be here before we know it. So, when I saw this question in my e-mail the other day, I thought today would be the perfect time to answer it. I mean, it is the weekend and I’m guessing a lot of you will be doing some shopping over the next couple of days. I know I am. My goal is to beat the rush this year!

And if you’re anything like the person who asked today’s question, you’ll be doing it from the comfort of your computer chair. Yes, online shopping is a quick and easy way to get what you need for the holidays, but in doing that, you’re also taking a security risk. Don’t get me wrong, most companies have top notch security for their Web sites, but there are still some things you need to look out for. Don’t stress though! I’m here to help. Below, you will find the top five tips for safe online shopping. Read through them and then put them to practice. Here we go!

1.) Know Who You’re Dealing With – The first thing you need to be aware of is the merchant you are buying from. There are a lot of companies out there today that run completely off of their Web site, which means you probably won’t be as familiar with them as a store you could visit at the mall. In that case, you should take some time to learn about them and the reputation they hold. You can do that by searching them out on the Internet. Use a search engine to see if you can find any reviews about them from other consumers and try to find an information page on them. If previous shoppers really like or dislike a company, chances are, you’ll be able to find some comments about them somewhere on the Web. If you take the time to do this before you order from a new business, you’ll be much better off in the end.

2.) Protect Your Privacy – When you’re shopping online, you have to think about yourself first and that means doing whatever it takes to protect your privacy. Before you do any ordering, you should be aware of what information the merchant is asking of you, how it will be used and if they have any intention of sharing it with others. The best way to do all of that is to check out the company’s Web site. If they’re a legit site, they should have a Privacy Policy posted there. You should take the time to read through that and make sure you’re comfortable with everything they say. It’s a good idea to look for seals from privacy enforcement organizations, such as TRUSTe and BBBOnLine, as well. If you’re asked to enter in such things as your social security number or bank account information, do not do it! Those things are red flags and they are not needed to make an online purchase. If you pay close attention to what you’re doing, you will be just fine.

3.) Know All the Details – When you’re shopping online, you should always check out the complete details of your purchase. For example, make sure you know all about delivery dates, shipping and handling costs, warranties, return policies, etc. It’s also a good idea to get a company’s contact information before you finalize your order. They should have a telephone number or e-mail address on their Web site that you can keep on hand in case you have any questions or problems once you receive your items.

4.) Use a Credit Card – I know that may not sound like the safest thing to do, but it really is a good way to keep yourself safe. If you do business with a liable credit card company, they will protect you if anything happens while you’re making online purchases. Most credit card companies provide liability agreements, so if your card information is stolen, they will be able to put a hold on your card and issue you a brand new number. That way, whoever has your number is stopped from being able to use it. So, if you suspect any suspicious activity after you make an online purchase, call your credit card company right away and they’ll be able to handle everything for you. Also, when credit card companies see unusual activity on your card, they will inform you about it.

When you’re using your credit card online, make sure you look for the yellow padlock at the bottom of your Web browser or for the “https” in the URL. Those are two signs that a site is secure and that your credit card information will transmit safely. (You can read here for more on that). You should also always use strong passwords when you’re logging in to certain Web sites and make sure you don’t share them with anyone.

5.) Keep It On Record – The last thing you should always do is keep good records of your purchases. Make sure you either print out the receipt for your transactions or save it somewhere on your computer. Most companies send confirmation e-mails, so it’s a good idea to save that and print it out as well. In doing that, you will be able to keep better track of your total price, shipping and handling fees and shipping dates.

There you have it! Now, I know I mostly talked about online companies in this article, but these five tips go for every store you shop with online. It goes for all the “big box” stores, the department stores, grocery stores and so on. No matter where you’re doing your shopping, you need to be aware of your surroundings and make sure your number one priority is keeping yourself safe. Online shopping is even better when you’re smart about it. I now release you to start your Christmas shopping and I hope you find some great deals this weekend! : )

~ Erin

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