Online Shopping

Online Shopping Safety Tips

(ARA) - Online shopping can be the best of all worlds: wider selections and bigger bargains that can be purchased from anywhere, at anytime. But while the majority of Internet merchants are honest and trustworthy, there is always an underlying risk when buying online.

And why shouldn't consumers be scared? Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received tens of thousands of complaints about Internet shopping crimes. The issues ranged from undelivered products and gross misrepresentation of merchandise to identity theft and fraudulent e-commerce sites. Worse yet, the victims had little opportunity for recourse.

So what do you do when you find the baseball card that will complete your collection at a Web site you've never heard of? Or a search turned up the latest Palm Pilot at an unbelievable price on an online auction site? Is the reward worth the risk?

When buying from a smaller e-tailer, it is difficult to verify the seller's identity and assess quality of service. Often, buyers just hope for the best, crossing their fingers that the product they paid for will arrive at their doorstep.

If you don't know the business by reputation -- a trusted brand or bricks-and-mortar store -- Marsha Collier, an e-commerce expert and best-selling author of eBay for Dummies, offers the following advice to know who you should trust online -- and more importantly, who you shouldn't.

Contact is key: Check to see if contact information is available. Legitimate merchants offer several contact methods, including a customer service phone number, physical location (not a P.O. Box) and a legitimate business e-mail. If you feel nervous about buying from the seller, call and request a catalogue or speak with a customer service representative to determine legitimacy.

Word of mouth: Many e-commerce stores are now participating in shopping comparison sites such as Epinions or Bizrate, which allow you to view feedback from other shoppers.

Third-party backing: One of the best ways to determine trust is to have an independent third party, such as the Better Business Bureau ( or buySAFE (, verify the seller's identity. These organizations put online merchants through a rigorous background check to identify the most reputable and trustworthy merchants, and allow them to post a seal on their transactions. The seal should link directly back to the organization that created it, ensuring it is authentic. For additional financial protection, buySAFE even goes so far as to bond the seller's transaction (up to $25,000) with consumers.

Secure the deal: After you determine the seller is trustworthy, make sure that the seller is using secure technology. Before you enter in any personal or financial data, such as a credit card number, make sure the Web address begins with "http" and a locked padlock appears at the bottom right of your screen.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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