Accounting Tips

8 Tips to protect yourself when shopping online

I love to support local businesses and do so whenever I can. But, I also do a lot of my shopping online for several reasons, not the least of which is the whole shop in your jammies thing. We have family who live in other states, so shopping online makes it easy to remember birthdays, graduation, back to school, and most certainly Christmas. However, online shopping is not without its risks. There are both IT risks, and financial security risks. I’ll not address the IT risks, but here’s a link to a great article on the subject at A PC Geek, he’s my brother.

However, I do want to relay some tips for keeping your finances safe when shopping online.

Buy from reputable stores and sellers

If you’re considering a purchase on a site that is unfamiliar to you, take a moment to check them out and make sure their legitimate. The Better Business Bureau Online and Truste give seals of approval to sites that meet their security and privacy standards. Often you’ll see the BBB logo on the site, which lets you know they have been screened and approved. Look for reviews about their reputation and customer service, and be sure you can contact the seller if you have a problem with your purchase. If the item you want is on a site you can’t verify, Bizrate can give you a list of online retailers that sell the item, their prices, and reviews.

Look for the padlock symbol

Any website that accepts credit cards for purchases should be Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)-encrypted. This encryption provides the buyer with privacy by restricting the computers that can access the data being transferred and limits access to you and the retailer. Always check for the padlock symbol near the address bar, and the URL should start with https:// instead of http:// The ‘s’ indicates a secure site.

Make sure you’re getting the best deal

Do some research online for the product you’re buying. Check out the product reviews and compare with similar products. Compare your price with prices on other sites, but don’t forget to consider shipping and delivery times. Sometimes you can save money on an item if you don’t need it delivered right away. Alternatively, you might find a site that has the item for the same price or a little more, but can they deliver for less or in less time.

Use your credit card

This is one of the few times I recommend using a credit card. Here’s why. If you pay for your online shopping with a credit card, there are added protections should you need to dispute charges. In the US, online purchases made with a credit card are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which limits your responsibility for fraudulent or erroneous charges to $50. Credit card companies offer additional protections regarding unauthorized charges and liability limits, so check that out with your individual creditor. 

Don’t overshare

In other words, be careful how much information you provide to the retailer. Fill out the online order form with the least amount of information necessary to complete your transaction. Beware of questions that would require too much personal information. No retailer should need your Social Security Number. Beware. Similarly, never give out your credit card or Social Security Number over email. As previously mentioned, personal information should only be given out when you’re on an SSL-encrypted webpage operated by a trusted retailer.

Use PayPal

Services like PayPal keep your credit card information stored on a secured server, and then let you make purchases online without giving credit details to retailers. PayPal also monitors accounts for suspicious activity and covers most unauthorized transactions.

Be smart with your Smartphone

When shopping with a mobile device, whether a tablet or phone, it’s a good idea to use apps that come directly from the retailer and make your purchases from within those apps. You should never make purchases over public, unsecured Wi-Fi. If you connect your phone to Starbucks’ W-Fi and then shop on Amazon, you could be leaving your personal information at risk because the network isn’t secure.

Keep a record of all your online transactions

This is important, at least until you receive your order. With each order, you should receive a confirmation number and, in most cases, a confirmation email. Within that email there will most likely be a link to track your order. By clicking that link, you can check that status of your delivery and get an estimated delivery date. In some cases, the order status can advise you that you order has been delivered when it hasn’t. This happened to me recently and I was able to provide the post office with the tracking number. They, in turn, were able to identify where the package was ‘misdelivered’ but it took an extra two weeks and a lot of personal legwork to get my package. 

That’s it in a nutshell. Use your common sense. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. If a retailer won’t give details on a product or answer billing questions, it’s best to avoid shopping there. Never feel pressured to give out information. If you’re uncomfortable answering a question, take your business somewhere else.

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