8 Tips to Shop Safely Online

Online shopping might possibly be the greatest thing invented by man since sliced bread and canned beer. What’s better than being able to pre-order the Blu-ray of Iron Man III along with a ten-piece Tupperware set, all while lying in your living room in your underwear?

But the ease that online shopping provides also provides for the potential for scammers to take advantage of you. These scammers exploit the convenience of online shopping and are hard to track down after the fact. Because of this, it is important that you protect yourself before you make a purchase from a vendor online.

Here are a few easy ways you can protect yourself from getting scammed online.

  • Use some common sense. Before you buy anything from a website, take a step back and look at the site. Does it look professional or does it look like it’s been put together quickly by a sixth grader? If you have questions about the website’s professionalism, then get out of there.

In general, if you’ve heard of the company and they have commercials on television, they’re probably safe to buy from. Home Depot is good to go, while Ray’s House of Drill Bits might take a little more investigating.

  • Read the return policy carefully. Every single online vendor worth anything has a very clear return policy that is easy to access and read before you buy anything. If you have to dig around to find a company’s return policy, it might be fine to buy from them, but difficult to get satisfaction from them if you’re unhappy with your purchase. If you can’t find a return policy at all that should raise a major red flag.
  • Ask around. If you have questions about a company’s trustworthiness, ask your friends. Online shopping is so ubiquitous these days that chances are one of your friends has bought something from that vendor, or at least thought about it.

The drawback to relying on your friends’ recommendations is that they are completely subjective, based only on their personal experience. It is best to take the recommendations of your friends and cross-reference them with online reviews. Sites like resellerratings.com and ripoffreport.com can help you figure out if that online site is reputable or not. Companies that have been reviewed hundreds of times means they have done enough business with enough people to be reviewed, which goes a long way toward their legitimacy.

  • If you see the Lock, you’re good to shop. If you’re using a credit card – which is the safest way to purchase goods online – then make sure the site you’re buying from has a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on their site. You can tell if the site has SSL a couple of ways. First, their website URL will begin with https, not http. The second way is to find the icon of a locked padlock either at the bottom of your browser or at the top next to the URL. If you see the Lock, you’re good to shop.
  • How can you pay? A good rule of thumb in online purchasing is that the number of ways you can pay is directly related to how legitimate the company is. If the company accepts PayPal, Google Checkout, and Amazon Payments along with credit cards, then they’re probably legit. Do not pay with your debit card — you’ll have less protection if the info is stolen and used for purchases than you will with most credit cards.
  • Check the company out on Facebook and Twitter. Nowadays every company worth its salt has some kind of social media presence. It is virtually mandatory. A company that isn’t on Twitter and doesn’t have a Facebook page needs to be looked into a little bit more before you buy from them.
  • Keep your anti-virus program up-to-date. Even if you don’t buy anything from a shady website, there are ways for nefarious folks to get their hands on your financial information, so it’s always a good idea to make sure your computer is well protected against viruses and malware.
  • Stay in your pajamas. When you’re buying online, it’s a good plan to do your purchasing from home. If you use a public computer and forget to logout, the next user has access to all your information. Your home’s password-protected WiFi account also offers more protection compared to a coffee shop’s public WiFi connection (where you should always access the web with a virtual private network). And don’t forget to save confirmation emails, or screen shots of confirmation pages.

Shopping online is quick and easy, and if you use a little bit of common sense, completely safe.

How do you inspect an online company before you buy from them? What do you look for before you buy from a company online?

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