Staying safe while shopping online

Now that the holiday season is rapidly approaching, it’s a good time for some quick reminders about safely purchasing items online. Armed with the proper knowledge and a little common sense, purchasing things online can be as safe as going to the store and purchasing it in person.

It’s getting easier to purchase items online from reputable companies. However, there are also several “companies” that want to steal your personal and financial information. Listed below are some suggestions for making your online shopping experience more enjoyable.

Contact information

Is the sellers address and phone number listed in an easy to find location on their website? Reputable sellers will have their contact information on their website. Look for an address and phone number to call in case you have any questions or problems. If you question their authenticity, call the phone number to see if it works, or speak to them to get a sense of how they handle things. If you spot a lot of typos or grammatical errors, be very suspicious. Reliable online retailers should have very few if any typos and errors.

Privacy Policies

When you decide to purchase something online, what do they do with your personal and financial information? Some companies love to sell your personal information to other companies to turn a quick buck. Reputable companies will have an easy to find Privacy policy on their site. Read it carefully. If they won’t keep your privacy protected you should look elsewhere.

Returns, refunds and exchanges

Is the pair of jeans you just bought too small? Will the company allow you to return an item if it’s damaged or exchange an item that’s not the right size? Reputable companies want you to be satisfied and to become a repeat customer. Like the privacy policy, these policies should be easily accessible. Be leary of a company that has an “all sales are final” or a “no refund” policy. Chances are you’ll be better off going elsewhere.

Verify the web address

Make sure that the url (uniform resource locator) you type into your browser’s address bar belongs to that entity. For instance, if you type in www.example.com and your browser redirects you to ww1.my.example.com you’re most likely dealing with a fraudulent situation. The url in your address bar should be exactly what you typed in. Most links will also appear in the status bar (lower left hand corner of your browser) when you move your mouse over them. You can go to www.whois.net to check out urls and see who they belong to. If you type in www.example.com and you end up with www.example.com/index.htm that’s ok. Make sure the url you enter is valid.

Verify the security of the website

When purchasing items online, make sure you’re on a secure website. When you’re visiting a secure site, the url in the address bar is preceded with https://, not http:// (notice the ‘s’ which indicates that you’re on a secure site). On most browsers you’ll also see a little icon depicting a closed lock, or in some cases a key. If you see a lock that is open (not closed or locked) or a broken key you’re not on a secure site. Make sure the site you’re on is secure. Note: usually the main site will not be secure. When you actually go to make the purchase and enter your credit card information you should be on a secure site. If it’s not secure, go elsewhere.

Use one credit card to make your purchases

Try to only use one credit card when making online purchases, irregardless of how many cards you have. When you make a purchase by credit card your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Know your consumer rights.

Check for reliability and complaints

If you’re like me, you’ll want to research the company you’re about to spend your hard-earned money on. Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. Several resources are listed below that allow you to check for consumer complaints, potential fraud and overall reputability. If a company has numerous complaints filed against them or they’re being investigated for fraud you’re better off avoiding them.

Some places to check a company out are:

Print receipts and correspondence

It’s always wise to print your receipts and any correspondence you have when purchasing things from any company. That gives you a paper trail to refer to if you have questions about charges or descriptions of purchases and things along those lines. Check your bank statement when it arrives too to make sure you’re charged correctly. It doesn’t hurt to print the url somewhere too.

Do not use easy to guess passwords

If a password is requested when you purchase an item (or in some cases to let you track your order history, etc. with some companies), don’t use easy to guess passwords. Passwords such as your birthday or pets name, address, etc. are easy to remember, but they’re also the most insecure passwords you can use. People attempting to steal your identity will usually try things like that first. Use a variation of upper and lower case letters with some numbers and even some punctuation thrown in. For instance Jf4!B6w&zQ or something that’s more secure. Use a password program to generate and store one for you.

Also note: there is NO reason for anyone to require your Social Security Number when purchasing items online. If a company requests your Social Security Number when purchasing something, go elsewhere (and report them to the proper authorities).

It’s always a good idea to keep your anti-virus and any other anti-malware programs updated, as well as your operating system. Never enter your personal information in a popup window when you enter a site.

Online shopping is convenient and with the proper precautions, very safe. Don’t become a victim or a statistic. If you question the credibility of a company when making an online purchase, you’re probably better off finding another one. Shop safely!

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