Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Online Shopping and Security

Online shopping (also known as electronic commerce or e-commerce) is exactly what it sounds like: buying and paying for an item via your computer. According to the Forrester Research Online Retail Index, consumers spent an estimated $4.3 million online in April 2001. E-commerce has become such a growth area that the U.S. Commerce Department has started tracking sales on the Internet. You can purchase almost anything online including clothes, cars, computers, groceries, and homes. You also can make travel arrangements and financial arrangements without leaving your computer. Almost anything you want to purchase can be found online.

This way of shopping presents both opportunities and concerns for consumers. You will find many Web sites (and companies) that claim to be experts on e-commerce. Shopping on the Internet can be as safe as shopping in a store or by mail if you consider the following tips.

Use a secure browser — Your browser should comply with industry security standards such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Electronic Transaction (SET). These standards encrypt (scramble) the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transaction. A safe site will show a symbol of an unbroken key, a picture of a closed lock, or a Web address that begins with “https.” (Look for the letter “s.”) In addition to locks and keys most browsers also display a warning message before you send information to a site.
This dialog box should inform you whether you’re sending to a secure or unsecure site. You may cancel at this point if you wish.

Keep your private information private — Do not provide personal information unless you know who will receive the information. Keep your passwords private, and use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols for your password instead of easy-to-find birth dates, phone
numbers, or addresses.

Shop with companies you know — If you’re not familiar with the company, try asking for a paper catalog or a brochure. Ask about the company’s shipping charges, as well as their privacy, refund, and return policies. Always find a mailing address and phone number for the company.

Pay with a credit or charge card — Shopping online requires that you pay for the purchase with a credit or charge card at the time you order. If you pay with a credit or charge card your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. By law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances. In the case of unauthorized use of a consumer’s credit card, you are usually held liable for only the first $50 in charges. Some cards may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits. Some suggestions on using a credit or charge card online include the following:

• Start small — Purchase a small item to test the shopping waters before you invest too much time and money.
• Use a separate credit or charge card for online shopping — Just as you may use only one card for business travel, you should use only one card for online shopping. This will allow you to track your online purchases easily.
• Keep a record of your purchase — Print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. The Federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers orders made via the Internet. This means that, unless stated otherwise, merchandise must be delivered within 30 days; if there are delays, the company must notify you.

Consider buying through an intermediary — One problem with consumer-to-consumer transactions is that the seller doesn’t always follow through and deliver the product. Some companies act as intermediaries by holding the money and transferring it only after the buyer receives the merchandise. This service can help save you money and keep more sellers honest.

Completing forms on the Internet — A form is an area in a Web page where you can supply information that will be sent back to the Web server. Forms are one part of Web browsing where you need to be careful. Why are forms sometimes risky? When you fill in a form and click the “submit” button, you send the information you supplied in the form to the server. If you are sending information that isn’t private there is no reason to be concerned. However, some forms want more from you, including such sensitive information as your name, e-mail address, mailing address or telephone number, credit card number, and Social Security number.

A form usually collects personal information when you are making a purchase, or when joining an online organization. A growing number of sites prompt you to “join” the site in order to view/use it. To join you must supply information about yourself. If you’re concerned about privacy, an easy way to protect yourself is to never fill out one of these forms. If you are tempted to do so to purchase a product or join an organization, ask yourself these questions:

• Is the information requested by the form really necessary?
• Do I trust the owners of this site with my information?
• Is the site secure?
• Does the site have a security/privacy policy?

Choices on the Internet — Many companies give you a choice about how your personal information is used. These companies allow you to decline to have your personal information (such as your e-mail address) used or shared with other companies. This type of option is usually found in the company’s online privacy policy. If this option exists, you should decline to have your personal information shared. If this option does not exist, you might want to e-mail or phone the company for more details on their policy.

Related Post:
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Six Rules for Smart Online Shopping

1 comment:

Norah said...

Excellent post..! I always prefer and advice that online shopping is a fun and enjoyable experience but need to be done with 100% careful.