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Shopping Online This Season? It's Quicker and Easier, but Be Careful!
December 03, 2009


Today is “Cyber Monday”, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. If you’re one of the millions of people who will be shopping online this holiday season, make sure you follow this advice from the Wsconsin Better Business Bureau.

“Savvy online shoppers who look for merchants and Web sites they can trust, who take steps to protect their privacy and the security of their financial transactions, and who heed their instincts will reap the many benefits of online shopping,” said Ran Hoth, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.

Why You Want to Shop Online

  1. Better deals, better selection. If you can’t find the size or color you want at the merchant’s traditional “brick and mortar” store, chances are you’ll find a bigger selection at its online counterpart.

  1. Easy comparison shopping. No need to drive all over town looking for a better deal. You can do it all at your computer. There are even websites available who will search more than 60,000 websites and do the comparison shopping for you – for free.

  1. Free shipping. Especially this time of year, many online merchants will offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. The earlier you shop, the easier it is to get free shipping. Don’t wait until a week before Christmas.

  1. Promotional codes. If you’re finishing your online order, and the merchant asks for a “promo code”, go back to a search engine and type in the name of the store and “promo code”. You may find “secret” codes that will offer you a percentage off, free shipping or more.

Why You Want to Be Careful When Shopping Online

  1. Is your computer protected? Make sure your computer is equipped with updated spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall. Check for and install any new security updates for the programs on your computer and its operating system.

  1. Are you in the right frame of mind? You can shop with speed and ease on the Internet, but you still need to shop smart. If you’re tired or distracted, you may want to postpone your online shopping expedition until you can be fully cyber-“aware.”

  1. Do you trust the merchant? To check on the seller’s reputation, look for feedback comments from other customers or conduct Web searches. Check with the Better Business Bureau ( for a report about the retailer’s marketplace record. Look for a “trustmark” from BBBOnLine or another reputable organization and “click” on that seal to confirm that it’s valid. You can search for BBBOnLine merchants by gift category or other key words at

  1. Do you have all the details? Don’t do business with any retailer that does not provide its physical address and a contact telephone number for customers. You should know how much the product or service costs; if there are shipping and handling charges; the delivery time-frame; if a warranty or guarantee is offered; the seller’s privacy policy and the retailer’s cancellation and return policy. Print out a copy of your confirmation page in case you need it later.

  1. Will your online purchase be secure? Look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. Don’t be fooled by spoofed sites that feature convincing “security” measures. If you have doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is “not encrypted.”

  1. Will your personal information be protected? Read the site’s privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If there isn’t one posted, consider that a warning that your personal information may be sold to others without your permission.

  1. Are your instincts telling you to beware? Listen to your gut. If you’re dubious about a merchant; if the Web site appears to be suspicious; if the offer seems “too good to be true,” trust your instincts. Check with the BBB.

  1. Is that e-mail legitimate? If someone e-mails you unexpectedly to ask for personal information, be very suspicious. Legitimate businesses do not send e-mails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. Pick up the phone and call the contact number on the Web site where you made the purchase to ask if there was a problem with your transaction.