Online Couponing and Shopping - Basic Consumer Safety

Before starting an online transaction, take time to read the following consumer safety tips. While there are opportunities for a deal around every corner, shoppers need to be prepared. For more information, check out any one of the included resources. A little online shopping savvy goes a long way.

Know Your Merchant

Familiarize yourself with the name and reputation of any online business before making a purchase. If you’ve never dealt with a company before, search for Internet news sources, rating services, or directories to learn more. Even a simple online search could reveal information about the company, its policies, or specific customer experiences.

The Better Business Bureau: Use the search feature to read reviews, based on customer experienceswith a business or charity. Search by business name, type of business or website address.

Be a Cautious Consumer: This 2009 Consumer Reports article mentions being cautious about online merchants.

Tips for Finding Out if a Website is Secure: This information shows consumers how to figure out whether a website is secure, along with other tips for online shoppers.

Protect Your Privacy

It’s worth taking a look at the privacy policy posted on a company’s website. How much of your information are they collecting? Do they plan to sell or share it with others? You should be comfortable with providing information about yourself and the way the information will be used before continuing with your purchase. TRUSTe and BBBOnLine icons on a website demonstrate a company’s commitment to these privacy enforcement organizations. Cautious consumers think twice before providing any personal information, including a social security number, that is unnecessary to the purchase.

Cyber Security Tips for Shopping Safely Online: The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team provides information on how consumers can protect their bank accounts and their privacy.

Keep Your Private Information to Yourself: This list of tips includes being anonymous online, being aware of cookies, and who could be watching the emails you are sending.

Website Privacy: TRUSTe put together information about how to control the amount of privacy you have on websites and with online merchants. It also explains the public and private distinction when it comes to information sharing.

Get the Details

Reputable companies provide customers with clear information on their policies and contact information. Search for the company’s shipping information, including when packages are shipped, and the fees associated with shipping and handling. Check for return policies or warranties offered by the company or the manufacturer. Finally, make sure you have the company’s contact information. Whether it be an email address or a phone number, you need a way to communicate with the company about your purchase.

Signs of Online Fraud: Be cautious about websites offering opportunities that seem too good to be true.

Tips for Avoiding Internet Fraud: The FBI lists its top suggestions for protecting yourself from all types of fraud including: non-delivery of merchandise, credit card issues, and even online auctions.

Spotting Fake URLs in Fraudulent Emails and Websites: Yale University offers a step by step guide for determining whether a certain web address or email is suspicious or fake.

Use a Credit Card and Safeguard Your Password

Did you know that using your credit card provides you with some protection for purchases made online? Both federal law and your credit card agreement state that if an unauthorized purchase is made with the card, your liability can only be up to $50. Search the website for evidence of strong security technology. The information could be posted in the company’s policy page or with an icon showing something like a key or padlock. Keep your password safe and don’t share it with anyone else.

Safeguarding Your Password: The Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland gives several ideas for keeping a password safe, including good and bad ideas for passwords.

Safeguarding Your Identity and Password: James Madison University offers several tricks for coming up with a strong password that you can always remember. The article also discusses when and how to change passwords.

Protection for Your Debit Card Purchases: This site features a list of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E that discuss protection for unauthorized purchases or ATM withdrawals.

Keep Good Records

Print or save a copy of any records involving your online purchases. This gives you the ability to keep track of all the important details of your transaction. You can check on the shipping dates and fees, or the specific amount charged to your credit card. This is also useful if at any point you need to return a product for a refund.

Online Shopping, Printing out Pictures and Receipts: The Harvard Business Review shows how consumers’ expectations of what they bought are attached to printing out a receipt with a picture.

Avoiding Unhappy Returns: The State of Michigan’s Attorney General explains how a receipt can make it easier to return unwanted items purchased online.

An Explanation of the Digital Receipt: Raymond R. Burke explains how digital receipts make life easier for consumers. (PDF)

Miscellaneous Online Safety:

FDIC: Online Banking, Bill Paying and Shopping: In addition to providing tips for online shopping, this article talks about various things to be aware of when banking online and downloading software.

Avoiding Problems When Shopping Online: The US government put together a list of smart shopping tips for consumers looking for a deal online.

Online Safety is a Personal Priority for Americans: A research collaboration between the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Anti-Phishing Working Group produces information about American’s opinions on their own security, or lack thereof.

Tired of Getting Unsolicited Commercial Emails?: The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email provides news regarding what you can do about unsolicited emails along with other various articles on a variety of online security precautions to consider.

Security Awareness Tip of the Day: Check this site daily to learn more about Internet security. Tips and topics range from protecting a computer to emails with suspicious content.

Mass Marketing Fraud: The Department of Justice presents details about the different types of Internet and email fraud. It also explains how the Department of Justice is working to enforce the laws in these situations.

Holiday Shopping Tips: While the Internet Crime Complaint Center created these tips for the surge of online shopping during the holidays, this information is valid at all times.

Steps to Report Identity Theft: The National Consumers League’s Internet Fraud Watch provides a step by step list of actions necessary to report identity theft.

Your Rights as a Consumer: The National Archives for the United Kingdom features an easy to read and understand explanation of your rights as a consumer.

Online Safety Tips and Volunteer Opportunities: Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@) lists out several different ways to stay safe online. This is not just limited to shopping. It includes tips for participating in forums, avoiding conflict, and being careful with personal information.

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