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Online Shopping Safety

In today's electronic world, it is extremely easy to shop and purchase goods or services on your computer, without ever leaving your home. Certainly, there are many benefits — cyber storefronts are always open and bargains are abundant. It is simple to comparison shop with the click of your mouse, and sellers can offer lower prices because they do not have to pay premium overhead costs for rent or sales clerks.

But, is it safe to shop online? The NCL (National Consumer League) National Fraud Information Center (http://www.fraud.org/) has gathered statistics related to complaints related to the Top Ten Internet Scams that indicate Fraud Trends. The period of January to December 2007 showed that 13% of all complaints were related to goods never delivered or misrepresented after purchase at an online auction. 23% of the complaints were related to goods never delivered or misrepresented after purchase online, but not through an auction. Therefore, over one-third of all complaints for 2007 were the result of online shopping fraud.

The upside is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself and enjoy the benefits of shopping online.

What can you do?

You can take numerous security precautions while shopping online. The following tips provide excellent points from which to start:

  • Know who you are buying from - Get the phone number and physical address of the seller. Check with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer protection agency to see if there are complaints lodged against the merchant. Check their website to see if they support or belong to programs that encourage good business practices.
  • Pay with a credit card - Paying with a credit card is safer than using a debit card, check, or cash. A credit card gives you the ability to legally dispute charges for goods that you never received, ordered, or were misrepresented to you. If there are unauthorized charges on a credit card, your liability is limited to $50, under federal law.
  • Look into single-use credit cards from your card issuer - Credit card issuers are adopting a new technology that allows you to make charges to your credit card account without using your real credit card number. This protects you from additional bogus charges by the seller or an unscrupulous employee of the seller.
  • Know exactly what you are buying and how much it will cost - Understand the seller's description of the product and read all the fine print. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Factor in all charges, including shipping and handling. Be sure to comparison shop other sites to validate the cost.
  • Print and save records of all online transactions - Make copies of the product description, price, receipt and even the main web page of the seller with contact information. File this paper trail in the event you might need it later.
  • Verify the privacy policy of the seller - Consider what information the merchant is collecting, why it is being collected and how it will be used or disseminated. If there is no privacy policy, expect that all your information will have no safeguard, and consider going to another seller.
  • Check out warranty and service information - Determine if the product comes with a warranty and if the seller provides service should you need it.
  • Confirm that the seller has a return policy - Find out if the seller will allow you to return the item if you are not satisfied. Also determine if you are responsible for shipping and handling for the return, and if there are restock fees.
  • Validate the security of your transaction - Many merchant's sites employ Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) technology, which encrypts information you send over the Internet. Look for one of these signs that your transaction is secure:

     

    • The web address changes from "http" to "https" or "shttp". The "s" indicates that the site is now secure.
    • Your browser shows a closed lock icon in the lower right-hand corner. Unencrypted web pages will display an open lock.
    • Consider what the website says about how the seller safeguards your information during transmission and storage.
  • Never provide sensitive information in an email to the seller, or anybody else!

    What about Internet auctions?

    The same rules mentioned above apply to online auctions. In addition, it is advisable to become familiar with the site before bidding. This includes ascertaining what protections are available to auction buyers, and gleaning as much information as possible about the seller.

    What can I do if I need help?

    If you have problems with an online shopping transaction, try to reconcile directly with the product seller or auction site director. If you cannot resolve the issue, contact and file a complaint with one or more of the following:

    • The Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbb.org/complaint.asp.
    • The National Association of Attorneys General at http://www.naag.org/ or the attorney general's office in your state.
    • The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Complaint Form at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en (additional FTC information can be found on the main page at http://www.consumer.gov/.
    • Your county or state consumer protection agency, which you will find in the phone book's blue pages under County and State Government.
    • If the merchant is located in a foreign country, go to http://www.econsumer.gov/english/.

    The bottom line!

    You can take advantage of the Internet's great shopping opportunities and still have peace of mind.

    These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your credit union as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.

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