Six New Safety Rules for Online ShoppingJennifer Martinez
It takes time for most people to trust new technology. This is why some consumers still shy away from online shopping; they believe it's too risky. But, the fact is, online shopping is actually quite safe if you play it smart.
In the United States alone, consumers spend tens of billions of dollars per year over the Internet. And why not? Online shops are a convenient alternative to hitting a crowded mall. As today's savvy shopper understands, e-commerce stores are essentially extensions of the brick-and-mortar marketplace. The same safeguards that help secure your offline transactions, can protect you online, too. Here's how to make your online shopping experiences more secure:
1. Know your sellers When you're shopping at the mall or walking down Main Street, you constantly make judgments about the people trying to sell you things. You evaluate the aesthetic quality and orderliness of their stores. You consider their track record, taking into account their reputation and the experiences you've had with them. You interact face-to-face with owners, managers, and sales clerks -- an invaluable way to gauge your comfort level with a potential seller.
On the web, these sorts of assessments are a bit more difficult. You can't look someone in the eye over the Internet. You can't see other patrons transacting business. And, you can't observe the state of a store's offices and storerooms. However, you can do a number of things to familiarize with a vendor and its reputation.
2. Use secure sites Many online stores have taken measures to make your purchases as secure as possible. They use advanced encryption methods and validation processes to ensure your credit card number remains safe and to prevent others from fraudulently using your identity. However, not all sites employ these technologies, so it's up to you to make certain the online store you're using handles transactions securely.
There are several telltale signs a store has security measures in place. If you're using Internet Explorer, your browser will display a "locked" icon near the web address to show you're on a secure part of a site. Secure sites will also have a slightly modified Internet address. Rather than beginning with h#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTttp://, the site's URL will begin with h#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTttps://. The "s" means the sight is using a secure server. In addition, many stores launch a pop-up window to indicate when you're moving to a safe area. If none of these indicators are present, seek out an alternative web retailer.
3. Pay by credit card One of the most talked-about fears surrounding online shopping is credit card fraud. Ironically, however, paying by credit card is the safest way to transact business over the Internet. Encryption and credit card validation technologies have made most transactions quite secure. And under U.S. law your potential liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is limited to $50. You don't get the same kind of protection from checks or money orders, and certainly not when you use cash. For an online payment service like PayPal, think about linking it to a credit card, not your bank account. Never send cash by mail to make an online purchase.
If using a credit card still makes you a bit wary, you may want to obtain a substitute or single-use card number for your online purchases. Some credit card companies have begun to offer these one-time payment methods to their cardholders. Substitute numbers are valid for a single purchase, and immediately thereafter, they expire. That way, even if a hacker or dishonest employee steals your credit card number, you won't be damaged. Check with your credit card company to see whether substitute numbers are available.
4. Keep transaction records Never toss electronic receipts or email confirmations for your online purchases; keep a record of all your online transactions. Transaction records are a convenient way to track shipping dates and other details. They're also a key piece of evidence should a dispute arise regarding an online purchase. Fortunately, keeping records is quite easy. Most online shops provide a summary page when you complete a transaction. Simply print that page and place it in your files. You may also want to download a copy of the summary page and save it to your hard drive. That way you'll have two copies of every transaction, one paper and the other electronic.
5. Don't abandon good shopping habits Just like you do in the
real world, make sure you shop around the web before making a major
online purchase. Online comparison shopping is easy and fast. You can
skip from store to store in seconds rather than minutes, and you'll
never arrive at a store to find it's already closed. Some sites such as
CNET, AOL Shopping, MySimon, or PriceGrabber, allow you to compare the
prices of several online stores at once, along with their shipping
policies and costs.
While online shops are open 24 hours a day, you don't want to use web-based stores for every kind of purchase. For instance, be wary of purchasing unique or expensive collectibles over the web. You should really inspect and handle items like these before deciding to buy. Likewise, be extremely careful when engaging in online auctions. Before making a bid, make sure you know exactly what it is you're trying to buy. Moreover, make certain you trust the auctioneer and that you've read and understand the auction's rules.
6. Protect your computer Finally, just as you safeguard your physical files and currency at home, you should also keep your digital means of commerce safe. Installing a personal firewall can hide your computer from hackers and helps prevent identity thieves from obtaining your personal information. Also, use software to block viruses and spyware that could be used to invade your machine and compromise your data.
If you use these smart online shopping tips, you won't have to worry as much about whether your e-commerce transactions are secure. Instead you can think about what to do with all the time you saved surfing for bargains and gifts, instead of searching for a parking spot at the mall.
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