There is still a segment of the population that refuses to buy anything online because they are afraid of exposing their financial information to thieves. However, if the recent credit and debit card breach at Target stores taught us anything, it’s that going inside a store to swipe your card doesn’t mean your data is necessarily any safer.
Meanwhile, some of the top products purchased by those who do cluelessly take the plunge and then later regret buying online include cars, used items, clothing, jewelry, furniture, makeup, commemorative coins, big-ticket items, TVs and even human hair weaves.
And yes, while some items should never be purchased online – like illegal drugs and such – that doesn’t mean consumers should give up buying online. Just follow these 12 tips to help you shop safely online:
1. Shop only on trusted and secure websites.
It should come as a given, but chances are you’re better off turning over your credit or debit card number to a well known website like Amazon instead of a shady-looking, fly-by-night e-store that has been recently set up without secure shopping features.
2. Use the sizing chart provided when shopping for clothes.
Instead of assuming you’d probably fit a size “medium” item of clothing, dig deeper into the annals of the website to determine whether their “medium” fits a waist size of 29 inches and a bust size of 36 inches. Measure yourself to see how the site’s sizing compares to your body in order to help prevent returns.
3. Closely examine the refund policy.
Speaking of returning items, you want to stick with websites whose return policy is as liberal as Amazon or Zappo’s, online retailing giants who are known to put the customer first in many ways. Make sure you’ll be able to send back the item you’ve purchased if you’re not satisfied for any reason and immediately get your money credited back to you.
4. Perform price comparisons first.
Even online stores like Walmart.com allow third-party sellers to sell goods for jacked-up prices through their site, in many instances at higher rates that allow the sellers to clear a profit. A bit more research might allow you to find the same item for much less by cutting out the middleman.
5. Use your credit card instead of your debit card.
Unfortunately, if you do run into a fraudulent retailer and have used a debit card attached directly to your checking account, the thieves might be able to make off with monies taken out of your account prior to you catching the transaction. Using your credit card can act as a buffer zone to give time to find the transaction and have it reversed or the card canceled.
6. Check your bank activity daily.
Speaking of stolen transactions, sometimes what’s done outside of your online shopping can help you more so than any of the other tips. Only by checking the activity of my card did I find a fraudulent transaction charged to Walmart that I didn’t make, and I was able to immediately cancel the card and get a new one.
7. Think twice about storing your credit and debit card information online.
Yes, it’s very convenient to save our credit and debit card profiles with various retailers on the web to make future shopping trips go faster, but keeping fewer profiles like these lessens the chance of the entire file being hacked and stolen with your info exposed therein.
8. Read customer reviews.
Feedback from other customers can be very valuable in teaching you what other shoppers had to go through when making their own purchases. If there are plenty of complaints about missing products or bait-and-switch type tactics, steer clear.
9. Beware of the links.
There are times when Google will warn you that “this site may harm your computer” or you can spy out clues that a website is trying to redirect you to a nefarious website. Stay aware and keep away from sites that try to take you into unfamiliar territory when buying online.
10. Consider offline word-of-mouth.
If you’re not accustomed to shopping online, follow the advice of real-world friends to help you determine the positive experiences they’ve had with various websites.
11. Never send cash.
It sounds crazy, yes, but there are plenty of hucksters out there who attempt to get newbies to wire cash in exchange for products, services or schemes that are nothing but frauds.
12. Keep all of your receipts.
Most websites will provide users with confirmation numbers, transaction numbers and e-mailed receipts directly after a purchase is made. Make sure to take a screenshot of your order success page, print out any confirmations and save all e-mailed receipts in case you ever need proof of your online purchases.
When it flows effortlessly and securely, shopping on the net can be a big blessing. After all, there are times when you might seek out embarrassing personal care products that you don’t necessarily want to tromp down to your cute local pharmacist to purchase. Also, if you are busy, it’s easier to just jump online and have things shipped straight to your house. Thank God for the Internet! Shop safe online and take advantage of the trend that’s here to stay.