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Shopping Online During the Holidays

Safety Tips for Shopping Online

Holiday Safety Tips are guides that will help you shop smarter online. The guide provides you with tips on securing your computer, return policies, and signs that a site is secure,...etc. When you use these tips you are a step ahead of the criminal that is trying to scam you. The tips can be used not only during the holiday season but also any time you purchase something over the Internet.

Secure Your Computer

 Before you begin to shop online, ensure your computer is secure with a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware program to prevent hackers from installing malicious programs in your computer and viewing your files.  Also, set your security software and operating system to update automatically to prevent collisions with each other. When these tips are put into practice they will reduce your chances of becoming infected with a malicious program( virus,trojan horse, ...etc). Securing your computer should always be the first step after turning the computer on.

Research the Seller

If you are shopping online with an unfamiliar seller keep these things in mind:

Call the phone number provided and speak with a customer service representative. If the number provided does not work or you believe that the person on the other line is asking too many personal questions (social security number, date of birth) Do not do business with this seller.

If an e-mail address is provided, send an inquiry and wait for a response, if one is not received or all of a sudden you start receiving unwanted e-mail (ads you didn't sign up for) in your inbox. Do not open any of the unwanted e-mails (they could contain a malicious program), Delete them!  Do not do business with this seller.

Look for reviews of the web site and read the customer's comments to see if  rates high in customer service. Ask family, friends, and co-workers if they have used this site before to find out if it is reliable. Also, check the Better Business Bureau  www.bbbonline.org, and check if the web site is registered with them.

Read the web site's terms of agreement and privacy policy. The information provided allows the shopper to find out what information the company collects on that them (cookies, IP addresses).

Look for Signs of a Secure Site

Check for signs of a secure site by looking for a closed padlock on the browser's status bar or the  HTTPS/SHTTP  (secured encryption) in the address bar of the web site's URL address when you are asked to provide payment information. Another sign to look for is the Better Business Bureau Seal. When  clicked you should be directed to the Better Business Bureau home page (www.bbbonline.org). 

Return Policies

Read the Return Policy including the fine print. During the holiday season some companies give customers extra time to return/exchange an item, or an option to return/exchange it at the store (provided the customer has proof of purchasing it online). Be Careful, some online sellers don't accept returns at all (especially if it was personalized/engraved) or some give you as little as a week to return/exchange an item. Also, make sure you have the correct postage when returning an item because some sellers will not accept the item  if the postage amount is insufficient. If you returned an item with insufficient postage the seller could charge your credit (for the returned item) the postage due in addition to charging you postage for sending the new/exchanged item. Make sure there is no restocking fee for the item you are purchasing (popular with electronic equipment). This lets the seller collect money for restocking the item that may not be damaged but opened. Also, Some online sellers offer free products,  check if the item you are returning requires you to return the free product too.

Look for the Best Deal

Shop around for the best discount and know what the original price of the item is. When you know the original price you can compare different sellers for discounts.  Many online retailers will give you free shipping if you spend more than $50-$100. Always read the fine print  because some companies say they offer a good deal but when you add shipping and handling sometimes it will cost a little less than if you purchased without the deal. Choose carefully because many web sites claim that they have the best discount.

Know the Product You Want

Know the product inside and out because you do not want to spend a large amount of money and then find out that what was purchased is counterfeit. Read the entire description along with customer feedback check if the product holds up to its' manufacturer image. Also, check for similar products that may be less expensive but have similar functions. Be careful for the Too Good To Be True Deals; these are normally name brand products at a reduced cost (they can be the real thing, stolen merchandise or counterfeit). After researching the product ask people who bought and used the product for feedback.

What Will You Pay With

Do Not Pay with Cash (money-wiring service) or money orders for any online purchase because there is no guarantee that your money will be refunded to you if you return the item. Be careful when you pay with debit cards because it is a direct link to your bank account. If a person obtains your debit card information and the pin number they now have access to your bank accounts. Paying with a credit card is safer because most creditors will refund fraudulent charges on your account. Plus, some creditors have a security plan that monitors your activity on your card, so if anything unusual happens they will call/e-mail you that a transaction happened.

E-mail Scams and Pop-Ups

If you receive an e-mail asking to enter in your personal information (bank account #'s, passwords) DELETE IT!!!! Even though it looks official it can be a scam to obtain your identity and steal your money. Legitimate companies will not send you e-mails asking for personal information (passwords). The companies will normally send you an alert e-mail asking you to go to the site and make the necessary changes. If you receive an official looking e-mail look for misspelled words, things that look out of place (logo is normally on the right side now it is on the left), it is a scam. DO NOT CLICK ON ANYTHING, DELETE  IT.  Regularly check your creditors official web site and look for any changes made to your account.  Also, close all pop-up ads because they can contain malware that can infect your computer with a key logger and obtain your information by recording your keystrokes. Legitimate companies will not allow pop-up ads in their secure web site domain.

Print Out All Receipts

Print out and save all your online transactions including the description of the item , receipt conformation, and any e-mails between you and the seller.  Check your creditors for the charge and ensure it is correct. When you keep a good record for an item you purchased you have proof of purchase if something breaks.

Finished Shopping? Turn Off Your Computer

When you leave your computer on after you are finished using it hackers and scammers receives this action as an invitation to come in and roam through your files, operating system to install malicious programs and execute cyber crimes. It is good practice to shut down (turn off) your computer when you are finished using it. Another option is to unplug the internet cable so no person is able to come into your computer without you knowing it.