Is shopping online "safe"? For the most part, the answer
is yes, as long as you take some precautions and use common sense. While
there are no guarantees, the following tips will help make your online shopping
experience much "safer".
Updates. Your computer should have the latest
operating system & security updates installed. Sometimes more
importantly, you want to make sure you are using the latest version of your web
browser (with all updates).
For Windows-based computers, using Windows XP with the latest
updates, including service pack 2, is best. Some of the improvements
that Microsoft made to Internet Explorer in SP2 are not available on older
versions of Windows. Mozilla Firefox is a "newer" alternative web
browser that has been well-received.
Location. It is safest to shop with "big name"
stores. A larger company with "Brick & Mortar" locations is much less
likely to engage in fraud than a place you have never heard of.
Amazon.com may not have a physical store near you, but they are a well-known
Payment. Credit Cards (not debit) are generally
considered the safest method of payment for online purchases. In general
they have better fraud protection policies than alternative online payment
methods. Some credit cards offer additional online purchase protections,
contact your credit card company to see if yours does.
One of the best protections (offered to Citibank cardholders and
some others) is "virtual credit card numbers". Virtual CC numbers allow
you to pay for your purchase without providing your "real" credit card number.
You can create a card number that expires after one or more months with
a dollar limit that you specify - making the card number "useless" after you
have used it.
You may also want to use a different credit card only for your
online purchases. A different card, with a lower credit limit, may make
it easier for you to detect fraudulent transactions.
Privacy. Do not give out unnecessary personal
information. Check to see if the site you are considering making an
using their site, they may sell your personal information.
Shipping and Handling. While many times you may be
able to find a lower price for an
item online (than in a local store), sometimes Shipping and Handling charges
wait times) make buying locally a better option.
Terms and Conditions. It's important to read and
understand any terms and conditions of sale. You will want to look for a
refund / return policy. Some sites charge a "re-stocking" fee for any
returned merchandise. If you return a purchase, they might not refund
shipping and handling costs, and you may be required to pay for the return
Encryption. Any time you are asked to enter
detailed personal information and financial information, you want to make sure
that you are connected to a secure site. A secure site uses encryption
to send your information from your browser to the server that hosts the web
The URL for a secure site should always start with "https://"
(instead of "http://"). The most popular web browsers, Internet Explorer
and Mozilla Firefox, also use a "padlock" to signify that you are connected to
a secure site. You should also make sure that the site you are connected
to is still the site you thought you were connected to (check the URL), it is
possible to be redirected to another site.
Confirmation. You should print the details of your
purchase for your records. Most online stores will send you a
confirmation email after you have placed an order - you should also save this
message. Having this information will help if you have trouble with your
Accounts. Many online stores will force you to
create a "shopping account" to make a purchase at their site, or will create an
account for you automatically when you make a purchase. It is important
to choose a good password for this account, one that is unique from other
passwords that you use.
Many sites will save your credit card information, for your
"convenience", for future purchases. It is much more secure, if your
credit card information is not saved -- if you have the option, choose not to
have it saved. This way, even if someone did get into your account with
that merchant, they should not be able to make a purchase charged to your
About the Author. Bill runs BG Computer
Solutions L.L.C. ( www.bgcomputersolutions.com 201-825-6754 ). Based out
of Mahwah, BGCS provides on site computer help for home users and small
businesses in Northern New Jersey.