Holiday Help From Your BBB

  
     
November 28, 2011

Shop or donate online only on sites that use technology that encrypts your personal and financial information before sending it for payment processing. Encrypting sensitive information makes it inaccessible to anyone outside the system. Any page on a site that asks for personal or financial information should have a URL or Web address beginning with https:// as opposed to the usual http://.

Shopping only on the sites of merchants you know and trust is another critical means of ensuring your online safety. However, if you decide to order from a Web site you have never patronized before, it's a good idea to spend a few minutes investigating the site. For starters, reliable Internet retailers always include a business address and contact telephone number on their sites, as well as information about site security, their return and refund policies, shipping practices and privacy policy. This information should be easily located on the Web site, often along the bottom of the company's home page. If you can't find this information or suspect that the business might not be legitimate, contact the Better Business Bureau to determine if there are outstanding complaints against the company.

Another critical step in securing your personal and financial data is to provide only the information necessary to complete the transaction — and no more. Social Security numbers are not required to complete an online purchase and consumers should never provide this information. Being asked to reveal sensitive information, such as a Social Security number, on a retail Web site is an automatic red flag indicating that something is not right. Your best bet? Close your browser window and search for another, reputable source for the item you want.

Finally, whenever you shop online, it's best to pay with credit cards, which are protected by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act — a law that entitles cardholders to dispute charges made to their accounts. Unfortunately, there is no other form of payment that provides this type or level of protection.