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Online Shopping Safety, Privacy, and Benefits

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/23/2006 | Social Issues
Holidays or not, online shopping is fast becoming the main shopping choice for many people. People prefer online stores for their shopping needs over the brick-and-mortar stores for a variety of reasons - discounted price, quick price comparisons, unavailability of desired items in the retail stores, 24 hours shopping convenience, etc. Whatever the reason is, before you jump into the online shopping bandwagon, you must consider a few things to avoid frustration and monetary loss.

Before you pull out your credit card to buy an item at an unbelievably reduced price, think about the reasons why the merchant is throwing out his profits. Maybe it is a total scam and they want your credit card number to rip you off. Stay with the big online shopping sites. Sites that are publicly traded or reputable private companies do not spam your email inbox with unsolicited advertisements. If you find a shopping site, advertised in a spam e-mail, that sells 100 software for 10, you can bet that it is a scammer's site.

Ask your friends about their experiences with online shopping sites to select sites that are worthy of your hard earned money. Another approach is to use a search engine like Google to search for items you plan to purchase. When you use Google to search for an item, you will get advertised and non-advertised sites offering your items at different prices. Check out a few sites before you decide to make a purchase.

Many sites like bizrate.com or nexttag.com offers price comparisons, reviews, and shopping site ratings. Use these sites to read reviews and to do a price comparisons. Sites like techbargains.com publishes information on latest bargains, coupons, and discounts offered by various online shopping sites. Monitoring this type of sites provides opportunities to get great bargains. One comparison shopping site, buysafeshopping.com, provides information on qualified shopping sites that have gone through a screening process for merchant's identity, online sales experience, and the ability to deliver purchased items.

If you have to shop with an unknown online merchant, check for their telephone number at their Web site. Contact someone at the merchant's physical location and talk to them. Ask them about their privacy and refund policy. If you cannot find a phone number or the phone number goes to a voice mail, instead to a live person, go shopping somewhere else. There are dozens, if not hundreds, good online merchants for any items you want to buy.

At the online checkout counter, you have to use a credit card to pay. When you use your credit card, make sure that your credit card and personal information are sent using encryption to avoid someone intercepting your information for unauthorized use. To check for encryption, look for https in the URL. It is perfectly safe if the site has http in its URL for all pages except the order page - the page where you enter your credit card and other personal information like address, etc. Even if a site is encrypted, it can still be a scammer's site. Look out for tale-tell signs like numbers at the beginning of the URL. Avoid public computers at cafes, airports, etc. for your purchases. The danger is that hackers can install key-loggers to log your key presses before they are encrypted.

Always use a credit card to pay for your online purchases. Most credit cards have online purchase protection. If something goes wrong, you can always call your credit card company and dispute the charge. You do not have to pay for your disputed charges till the dispute is resolved. Federal laws limit your liability to 50 in charges should someone uses your card fraudulently. Never use a debit card. Debit cards pull money from your bank account as soon as the transaction is made. If you are ripped off, it may take months before you get your money back, if you ever see it again.

Despite all the cautionary warnings, online shopping is safer than shopping offline. You do not have to take a shower, dress up, drive and mingle with other shoppers and touch anything in the store for online shopping. How safe can it be? If you are careful, you can guard yourself against identity and credit card thefts by following safety tips discussed above. When you are using a credit card in an offline venue, there is a person, such as the sales person, who processes the transaction and this person can also see your private information. In online transactions, the middle man is eliminated. If you do your research, watch for signs of fraud and only use credit cards for your purchases, online shopping provides more benefits over offline shopping.