A Consumer Guide to Shopping on the Internet
Presented as a community service by Zeus Publications and
There's no doubt that great deals, convenience, and choices abound online.
But before you take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer, take a
minute to read the following safe-shopping tips. You'll learn how to be
"cybersmart," and get the most from your online experience without putting
yourself—or your wallet—at risk.
Security on the Internet
Shopping on the Internet can be just as safe as shopping in a store or by
mail. Just keep the following tips in mind to help ensure that your online
shopping experience is a secure one.
- Use a secure Web browser: Your browser should support the most
recent industry security standards, namely data encryption such as Secure
Sockets Layer (SSL). SSL enables your browser to encrypt or scramble the
information you send over the Internet, ensuring your shopping transactions
are secure. Most computers come with a secure browser already installed, and
others are available online. Be sure to visit your browser developer's Web
site to make sure the version you're using is secure.
- Shop with companies you know: It's easy to set up an online store
under almost any name. If you're not familiar with a merchant, ask for a
catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services.
You should also determine the company's refund and return policies before you
place your order. These should be posted on the company's Web site.
- Use a safe password: Be creative when you establish a password, and
never give it out to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date, or a
part of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of numbers,
letters, and symbols.
- Pay by credit or charge card: If you pay by credit or charge card
online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.
Under this law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain
circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is
investigating them. In the event of unauthorized use of your card, you
generally are responsible for only the first $50 in charges. Some companies
offer an online shopping guarantee that ensures you won't be held responsible
for any unauthorized charges made online, and some cards may provide
additional warranty, return, and/or purchase protection benefits.
- Keep a record: Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and
confirmation number for your records. You should also know that the federal
Mail/Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers online orders. This means that
unless the company states otherwise, your purchase must be delivered within 30
days, or the company must notify you of any delays.
- Pay bills online only at secure sites: Some companies let you pay
bills and check your account status online. Before you sign up for these
services, evaluate how the company secures your financial and personal
information. One thing to look for is that the company's site supports Secure
Sockets Layer (SSL). SSL supports encryption or scrambling of private
information. When you move to the check-out section of a site, the "http" in
the address of the site should change to "https," letting you know you are
working with a secure server. Browsers such as Internet Explorer or Netscape
will also show a symbol in the lower left of the browser window, such as a
padlock or a key, letting you know the server is secure. In addition, all
companies should explain their security procedures on their Web sites. If you
don't see this information, contact the company and ask.
Privacy on the Internet
Technology now provides companies with the ability to collect information
about you and potentially give or sell that information to others. You can gain
more control over your personal information and safeguard your privacy online by
following these guidelines:
- Keep your personal information private: Don't disclose personal
information—such as your address, telephone number, Social Security number or
e-mail address—unless you know who is collecting the information, why they are
collecting it, and how they will use it. For example, you might be wary of a
company if they ask for your address or credit card number before you have
placed an order, or if they request your Social Security number for ordinary
shopping transactions. And if you have children, teach them to check with you
before giving out this type of information online.
privacy policies on their Web sites. This policy should disclose what
information is being collected on the site and how that information is being
used. Before you provide a company with any personal information, check its
to the site about the policy and request that it be posted on the site.
- Make choices: Many companies give you a choice on their Web sites
as to how your personal information is used or if it can be used at all. These
companies allow you to decline—or "opt out" of—having personal information,
such as e-mail addresses, used for marketing purposes or shared with other
companies. You should look for this choice as part of the company's privacy
Easy as ABC
When exploring companies online, an easy way to remember the privacy and
security questions you should ask about a company is to remember your ABCs:
A bout Me?
What information does the company collect about me, and is it stored
How does the company use my information, and how does it benefit me?
What choices do I have about the way the company uses my information? Can I
opt out of having information used for other purposes, and how do I do that?
More Information for the Consumer
- Call For Action Inc. (CFA):
CFA is an international, not-for-profit network of consumer hotlines
affiliated with local broadcast partners. The ABCs of Privacy, which
describes how consumers can protect their personal privacy online, is
available on the CFA site. You also can contact Call For Action at 5272 River
Road, Suite 300, Bethesda, MD, 20816. Phone: (301) 657-8260.
- The Consumer Information Center
(CIC): CIC publishes the Consumer Information Catalog, which lists more
than 200 publications from a variety of federal agencies. The complete catalog
is available online, or you can also contact the CIC for a free paper copy at
Consumer Information Catalog, Pueblo, CO 81009. Phone: (888) 8PUEBLO.
- The Direct Marketing Association
(DMA): The DMA is a trade association of catalog companies, financial
services firms, publishers, book and music clubs, online service companies,
and others involved in direct and database marketing. The DMA's Consumer Line
acts as an intermediary between consumers and companies to resolve complaints.
You can contact the Consumer Line at 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 1100,
Washington, D.C. 20036 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The
FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection strives to protect consumers against
unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices. The FTC publishes brochures on
topics such as automobiles, credit, health and fitness, investments, products,
services and telemarketing. The FTC's library of consumer publications is
available from the Internet, or you can contact the FTC at the Consumer
Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. Phone:
toll-free at (877) FTC-HELP or TDD (202) 326-2502.
- Project Open:
Project OPEN is a partnership of the Internet Alliance, the National Consumers
League and leading online and Internet companies geared to helping consumers
navigate our new global community. Look for their brochures on online privacy
and getting the most out of the Internet.
- SafeShopping.org: This
informational site, created by the American Bar Association, helps consumers
order safely when shopping online.
- Bank and Credit Card Sites: The bank that issued your card and your
credit card company often provide a wealth of information online about Web
site security, information collection and use, and how to protect yourself
when shopping online, as well as their own shopping and security policies.
This information is brought to you by the Worldwide E-Commerce Fraud
Prevention Network. Visit our Web site at merchantfraudsquad.com.
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