Stay safe while shopping online

Online shopping can be convenient and fun, but it's important to stay safe while you're surfing the Internet.

by Doreen Friel

If you’re like most people, you probably do some shopping online. Every year, online sales increase dramatically. During the 2010 Christmas shopping season, Internet sales grew 15.4 percent from the same period in 2009 – $36.4 billion. While shopping from the convenience of your keyboard can save time, money and gas, here are some important things to consider:

  • Know your retailer. It’s always safer to shop with merchants you know. If you are considering a new website, do an online search for any complaints to help you decide.
  • Use secure websites. When placing your order on the merchant’s website, make sure there is an “s” at the beginning of the web address: The URL should begin “https://” instead of just “http://”  Also, be sure to look for a padlock icon in the upper or lower right-hand portion of your computer screen. Both of these mean that the site you are visiting uses high-level security to protect your personal information.
  • Credit cards give you greater protection than cash and debit cards. If you are not charged the correct amount for your purchase, or do not receive the merchandise you ordered, you can dispute the transaction under the terms of the Fair Credit Billing Act if you’ve used a credit card.
  • Choose your password carefully. Most websites require you use a password to access your personal information and place orders. “Be sure to create a password that is not easy for others to guess -and use a combination of letters, numbers and, if possible, symbols such as “*” or “%” to make it more secure.
  • Check the merchant’s privacy policy. This will tell you how they plan to use your information – including whether they will share it with others.
  • Always print the receipt for your transaction. It contains all the information from your order, including what you bought, the price you paid and any order or confirmation number. This is vital if you need to follow-up with the merchant or dispute your transaction.

Doreen Friel is a marketing communications consultant for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  

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