Shopping online is incredibly convenient for most people, but some consumers fear the (very real) possibility of Internet fraud. Protect yourself from online scams and identity theft when shopping online. Here are some specific tips for buying online:
- Research the seller. Company Websites often provide information in a section called “About Us.” Some online sellers participate in programs such as BBBOnLine that help resolve problems. Look for a logo or endorsement seal on the company Website. This is an indication, but not a guarantee, of the seller’s reliability.
- Check www.bizrate.com to see how other consumers rated online stores. Some auction sites post ratings of sellers based on comments by buyers. This may give you some idea of how you’ll be treated, but beware of too many glowing testimonials that might be placed by sellers themselves.
- Comparison shop at a variety of online stores. Shopping “bots” such as www.mysimon.com and http://www.like.com/ may help. Other feature and price comparisons can be found using the shopping page of www.consumerworld.org.
- Make sure you are clear on the condition of the product. Look for words like “refurbished,” “reconditioned,” “close-out,” “discontinued,” or “off- brand,” especially when shopping for computer gear or electronic equipment.
- Never send your credit card number by e-mail. E-mails are not secure.
- Save all transaction details. Print out or make note of the seller’s identification, the item description and the time, date and price you paid or bid on the item. Print and save copies of your order confirmation screen and all e-mail communications.
- Use a secure Website to help protect your credit card from misuse. The Online Privacy section offers more information on secured Websites. If you are not comfortable providing your credit card number online, many sellers allow you to call or fax it to them.
Online Auctions And Private Sellers
Many private sellers sell items on the Internet through auctions, classified ads, newsgroups, and chat rooms. If you are in one part of the country and the seller is in another, it can be difficult resolving a dispute. Be aware that government agencies may not be able to help resolve disputes since many state and federal consumer protection laws don’t apply to sales between individuals. Follow this advice as well as the general tips on online shopping and shopping at home.
- Check how the auction works. Can you cancel a bid? Don’t assume that the rules used by one Internet auction site apply to another. Some sites offer step-by-step tutorials that will take first-time buyers through the bidding process.
- Find out what protections the auction site offers buyers. Does the site provide free insurance or guarantees for items that are not delivered or what the seller claimed?
- Follow the strategies used in any auction. Learn the value of the merchandise you are bidding on. Establish your top price and stick to it. This is the best way not to overbid or fall prey to an unscrupulous seller.
- Don’t bid on an item you don’t intend to buy. Remember that if you’re the highest bidder, you are obligated to follow through with the transaction. Auction companies often bar non-paying bidders—those who back out of a deal—from future bidding.
- If the seller can’t accept payment by credit card, use an escrow service. Your money is held by a third-party until you receive your purchase and have approved release of the payment to the seller. There is a small fee, but the peace of mind is worth it.