Security Tips for Online Holiday Shopping
With the holidays upon us, shopping is a chore that most of us will face within the next few weeks.
I always try to do some of my shopping in our local community, but when I can't find something locally or I get an irresistible price, I buy online.
Shopping online can be a pleasant experience. You can shop in your slippers and robe at any time, day or night. Just make sure that you follow these tips to make your online shopping safe, secure and satisfying.
The first rule is to shop with reputable companies. If you know a company because you have shopped at its brick-and-mortar stores or have already frequented its online store with success, you can feel safe to shop there. If you are unfamiliar with a company but see an item that you want to purchase, check the Web site to make sure that it lists a physical address and telephone number.
Ask friends and neighbors for feedback about that particular store as well as other online places where they have shopped. You can use Internet resources to check out the reputation of the online retailer. The Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.gov) has a lot of helpful resources for online buying, including buyer's guides, tips and links to other good resources.
Next, be sure that the sites where you shop are secure. This is especially important when you are purchasing on a Web site for the first time.
Once you have clicked over to the ordering page, and before you provide any personal information, check to make sure the site is secure. You can do this by looking for two things.
First, the address of the secure page will begin with "https" instead of "http." The extra "s" stands for secure. Second, depending on your browser, you will see a closed yellow padlock or an unbroken key somewhere on the page.
Firefox and older versions of Internet Explorer will display this icon in the lower middle or lower right of your browser window. Internet Explorer 7 and/or 8 as well as the Safari and Chrome Web browsers will show it on the right side of the address bar. This shows that you are on a secure Web page.
However, you need to be aware that the lock icon is not just a picture. You can click (or double-click) on the lock to see the details of the site's security. This is especially important because some fraudulent Web sites actually place a picture that looks like a lock on the Web page to imitate a secure site.
Once you have determined that the Web site has a secure ordering page, you should read the refund, restocking and return policies of the company even if it is a well-known business. Some online retailers that also have brick-and-mortar stores will let you return online orders to their brick-and-mortar stores. Others will not.
Some online retailers will let you return items for any reason, while others let you return them only if the item is incorrect or defective. Some will pay return postage if the item arrives damaged, others will not.
Now you are ready to make your purchase. The experts advise using a credit card for online purchases.
If you use a credit card, the Fair Credit Billing Act will protect your transaction. Generally customers are held liable for only the first $50 worth of unauthorized credit card charges. Also you can handle any disputes through the credit card company.
It is important that you do not use a debit card. A debit card pulls the money right from your bank account. In the case of a fraudulent transaction, it can take months to get your money back - if you are able to get it back at all.
Some credit cards offer additional perks such as money back on any purchases and/or additional warranties on products purchased with their card. Some cards also offer an extra layer of protection for online purchasing. Some Visa cards can be protected by a system called "Verified." MasterCard has a system called "SecureCode." Both of these provide you with a personal password to make online use even more secure.
Check with your credit card company to see if these or other extra security features are available. Some people get one credit card to use specifically for online purchases. Although it is not required, if you want to get one card to use for online purchases, you might as well get a card with a little extra protection.
When you shop online you should also be sure to keep good records. Always print your order and record any confirmation numbers. If the company sends an e-mail confirmation of your transaction, be sure to read it carefully to make sure that the order was processed just as you intended. Needless to say, you should promptly check your credit card statements to make sure that there are no billing errors.
Last but not least, it's important to keep your PC safe. Be sure you have the latest operating system and Web browser updates and that you are using good antivirus software that is updated regularly. It is also a good idea to shop from home rather than from a library or coffee shop where your Internet connection may not be secure.
Most of what I've told you is common sense. Like securing your wallet or pocketbook when you are at the mall, these suggestions provide a similar security for your online shopping. There are plenty of online bargains, and shopping online can be easy and fun. Hope you enjoy it!
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your questions and comments on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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