‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online

In this tough economy, online bargain hunting is fast becoming a national sport. But getting a great deal online involves more than just getting the lowest price.

You want to be sure that products arrive on time, that quality is what you expected, that items include a proper warranty, and that there is a way for you to return products or get support with any questions or issues you have.

Apply these 10 Tips for Safer Shopping to improve your shopping experience:

  1. Secure your computing environment. If your computer isn’t protected from viruses and other malware your financial information and passwords will be stolen as you make purchases (as will everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet only 20% of the US population adequately protects their computers. If the cost of security software is prohibitive, there are several free services.Use a secure connection – make sure your computer’s firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information.
  2. Trust is Key. Know the Merchant – or Their Reputation
    1. If you already know the retail chain, shopping their online store is very safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help.
    2. If you know others who have had consistently positive experiences with the online store, you can be reassured of the site’s quality.
    3. If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best bet, you just need to take a few more precautions. Conduct your own background check by looking at sites dedicated to reviewing e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, Better Business Bureau). Another Web site to consider is The National Fraud Information Center which watches out for shady Internet dealings and offers consumer tips on its Web site. If the store isn’t listed as a legitimate site by one of these sources, move on.
  3. Check to see if the merchant offers coupons or discount codes. You can save a significant amount on your purchases by applying a coupon or discount code to your order, and a few simple steps will keep you safe when doing so. Click here to learn how.
  4. Is the Offer ‘Too-Good-to-be-True? Avoid buying from any e-store that promises too much at too low a price. If the price is low, you have to consider whether the merchant came by the items legally, whether you will ever receive the items, whether the items will work, if you will be able to return damaged goods, or if the merchant is also generating revenue by selling your financial information. Disreputable stores frequently run an absurdly low price offer and then, claiming the item is out of stock, try to sell you something else; this is a classic “bait and switch” technique.
  5. Giving a Gift Card? Be wary of Bankruptcies – this warning is particularly important this year as many stores are struggling or already know they’ll be shutting their doors. Make sure gift cards will be redeemable if the store is facing bankruptcy.
  6. Does the Merchant Collect More Information than is Necessary to Complete the Sale? You will need to provide some method of payment, address, and telephone number. If a merchant requests your bank account information, social security information, or driver’s license number, NEVER provide it. Some reputable companies ask additional questions about your interests. These should always be optional and you should be cautious about providing responses. Remember, your information is a commodity and you should feel you are getting appropriate value – and control – before providing your information.Does the merchant resell, rent, or share your information? Check the site’s privacy policy to understand how exposed your information may become. Many stores clearly state that they do not share, sell or rent consumer’s information – others say they own your info and can use it (or abuse it) however they choose. Stick to the companies that respect your privacy.
  7. Need a Password? – Make it Unique. Many sites ask you to create a password when you’re making a purchase. Use a strong password on any site you provide financial information, and remember, passwords don’t have to be hard to remember, just hard to guess. Click here to learn how.
  8. Make Sure the Site is Secure  – Before entering Any Personal or Credit Card Info
    1. Look to see if the web address on the page begins with “https:”, not of “http.” You should also see a small padlock symbol at the bottom of your screen.
    2. Never pay through email. Security protections do not work in e-mail applications so only make payment online though a secure site.
  9. Use Your Credit Card – not a Debit Card, Check, Cashiers Check, Wire Transfer, Money order – or use a well-respected payment service like PayPal.
    1. Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime.
    2. Consider creating a dedicated e-mail account for online shopping and transactions, and to use one credit card exclusively for online purchasing and transactions. If that card gets compromised, you can quickly shut it down.
  10. Review the company’s shipping methods. Always check a merchant’s shipping rates; some hide exorbitant shipping fees that can turn a bargain into a burden. Look to see if they provide tracking and insurance. Understand what carriers they use, and be particularly wary if the item won’t be shipped within 10 days.

Let the online shopping begin…

Linda

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