Top Ten Tips for Staying Safe When Shopping Online

  
     
December 14, 2010

November 18, 2010 – St. Paul, MN – Shopping online means avoiding the crowds, but it also opens buyers up to attacks from scammers and hackers. In order to fight these online menaces, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers 10 tips for staying safe when holiday shopping online. 

“The convenience and ease of shopping online has replaced the hassle of going to the store for many people, but online shopping has its own set of risks,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Taking precautions to avoid online fraud will result in a much happier holiday for everyone, except for scammers, of course – and hackers.”

Following are the “Top 10 Online Shopping Tips” for holiday shoppers to help fight unscrupulous online retailers, scammers and hackers:

1. Protect your computer – A computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

2. Shop on trustworthy websites – Shoppers should start with the BBB to check on the seller’s reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always go to bbb.org first, and look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized “trust marks” on retailer websites. Always remember to click on the seals to confirm that they are valid.

3. Protect your personal information – The BBB recommends taking the time to read the privacy policy of every website you visit and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn’t one posted, it should be taken as a red flag that personal information may be sold to others without permission.

4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true – especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a “deal” that might cost them dearly in the end.

5. Beware of phishing – Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an e-mail, the BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.

6. Confirm your online purchase is secure – Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, the BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.

7. Pay with a credit card – It’s best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charge if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Also, never wire money if prompted to do so.

8. Keep documentation of your order - After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail. The BBB recommends saving a copy of that as well as any e-mails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
 
9. Check your credit card statements often – Don’t wait for paper statements; the BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by checking statements online regularly or by calling their credit card companies if fraud is suspected.

10. Know your rights – Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.

For more advice on staying safe online this holiday season, and to see reports on thousands of online retailers, go to BBB's Holiday Tips page.