Read the signs!
Fearing identity theft and fraud, many people worry about zipping their credit card numbers into the internet. Contrary to their suspicions, ordering online can be considerably safer than leaving paper receipts in restaurant check folders and retailers’ cash registers. Cyber-shopping can certainly be more secure than telephone ordering, particularly employing cordless or cell phones.
How can you tell if an e-tailer is secure?
SHOP FIRST WITH COMPANIES YOU KNOW AND TRUST.
What’s your favorite store at the mall? Chances are, your favorite brick-and-mortar store will have a click-and-order website as well. (For clothing purchases, this strategy works particularly well, as you may already know what sizes and brands suit you best!)
Major companies depend on their reputations for quality, service, and trustworthiness. Such organizations will likely employ security measures for their web-sites. You will want to be sure of this before you order from them.
WHAT IF YOU WANT TO BUY FROM A COMPANY YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE?
Look for identifying information about the organization. Check the site map (often along the left-hand margin of the web page) for ABOUT US, WHO WE ARE, or a similar heading. Try to find a phone number, a street address, and other information.
Paste the company name into your web browser, and see what you can find out about them GOOGLE is one way to do this. You may find news items, product reviews, and other helpful information.
SPOT THE SECURITY STATUS
Before loading your credit card information into cyberspace, find out if the web-site you are accessing is secured. You may or may not receive pop-up windows indicating the security of the site. Do not be lured into a false sense of security by these.
Two basic indications are necessary:
1) The page address (in your web browser box) will begin with https:// instead of http://. The extra “S” stands for SECURE, and it is an essential ingredient. Do not order from sites that lack this.
2) Your browser box should also contain a tiny padlock symbol (in the locked position). An unlocked padlock is cause for concern, as it indicated an unsecured website.
If both of these indications are present, then the site clearly employs Secure Socket Layering (SSL) encryptions. Simply put, this means your private information is scrambled before it is sent through cyberspace. Once it has been transferred to the vendor, it is translated there, as your order is placed.
Enter personal information (name, address, phone, credit card numbers) ONLY after you have confirmed that a site is secured.
RELY ON CREDIT CARD PROTECTION
If you use your credit card online, your transactions are guarded by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this, if you report your credit card information as stolen, you will be responsible only for the first $50 of unauthorized charges. (Check with your bank or credit card provider to be sure.)
Debit cards may not carry this protection.
COMPARE PRIVACY AGREEMENTS.
Marketers often purchase customer information from online vendors. If you place an online order from one of these vendors, you may soon discover mass quantities of catalogs accumulating in your mailbox. You may begin receiving dozens of e-mails from unknown companies offering all sorts of products, from potency vitamins to get-rich-quick schemes. You may start receiving dinner-hour calls from telemarketers. You can prevent most of this by denying permission for online vendors to share your information. (If this option is not provided, you may wish to order elsewhere.)
CHECK RETURN POLICIES.
Before placing an order, you will want to research a company’s return policies. Under what conditions will they accept returned items? Who pays for shipping? Do they charge restocking fees? Can you return items to their stores instead of mailing them? Will they offer a full refund or a merchandise credit?
START WITH A SMALL ORDER.
Planning a major purchase? Try a test run. Instead of ordering that big-ticket item immediately, why not order a CD, a single book, or a few pairs of socks first? See how fast your order is delivered and evaluate quality and condition. Once you feel confident with the smaller transaction, you will be ready to consider the substantial one.