What’s not to love about online shopping? Millions of Americans enjoy the mind-boggling selections, easy price comparisons, and convenience. Some potential pitfalls exist, however. Here are a few tips to ensure your next online shopping spree is safe and worry free:
- Check refund policies before placing your order. How many days do you have to return an item? Who pays the shipping costs in the event you need to return an item? A “no refunds allowed” e-tailer should be a cause for concern.
- Monitor your credit card, debit card, and checking account statements, and inquire about any suspicious charges immediately. Report them as necessary. If possible, dedicate one debit or credit card as your “online” card. This makes identifying fraudulent charges easier and potentially limits the harm of a fraudster can inflict.
- Beware of websites that ask for highly personal information. Examples include Social Security number and birth date. If you come across these requests, be sure to consider the source. A swimming pool supplies company, such as PcPools.com, has no reason to ask for your Social Security number, and we won’t. A bank providing an online application form for a home mortgage, however, probably has a valid reason.
- Use a secure connection whenever possible. For this reason, avoid shopping on public computers or on your own computer if using a public network.
- Check website security prior to entering your payment information. If the checkout portion of the website does not begin with “https://” and have a locked padlock icon like the above example (exact location depends on the web browser you are using), consider making your purchase elsewhere.
- Keep records of all of your online transactions. Whether in electronic or paper form, retain your receipt and all emails from the company. Ensure your receipt describes the product and price with adequate detail so it can be referenced in the future, if necessary.
In addition to following the above guidelines and tips, be sure to trust your instincts. Simple, but true. For example, if you come across an extremely out of date website with no contact information and prices far below all of its competitors, instinct probably tells you that something is amuck. Listen to that impulse, and shop elsewhere. Finally, as a result of online shopping, you will likely receive some unsolicited emails or phone calls that simply ask you to “update your information”. Do not respond. These are scams that seek your personal data by claiming, for example, “your password has expired and needs to be updated.” If you are uncertain about the request’s validity, call a main phone number for the company in question and ask a representative directly. Again, trust your instincts!