Ten Simple Rules Before Making an Online Purchase

By: Larry Cockerham

It's that time again to pay your credit card bill, so you head over to your company's website and as you begin scanning your credit card statement, you are shocked to see three unauthorized charges. Fortunately, they are small amounts and are easy to get credits issued by the company. However, it is unquestionably a wake-up call for you to pay more attention when you are making online purchases so that you do not become a victim of Internet fraud.

A record $65.1 billion was spent in 2004 for online consumer spending. More and more people are attracted to the ease of online shopping and are spending greater amounts. Unfortunately, the probability of becoming a casualty of Internet fraud is also escalating. The Internet National Fraud Center Watch declared that the typical loss to fraud victims for just the first half of 2005 was $2,579. This is compared to the $895 average for all of 2004. Complaints relating to general goods purchases (merchandise never received or misrepresented) accounted for 30% of Internet fraud complaints, and auction purchases headed the list at 44%.

While many e-commerce websites are trustworthy and have taken the necessary safety measures to protect you, it never hurts to always be careful. If you have decided to make an online purchase, you might think about these ten simple rules:

1. Always avoid using an ATM or debit card. Use only one credit card, preferably with a low credit limit, when making online purchases.

2. Always be wary of unsolicited offers by sellers. The Internet National Fraud Information Center Watch reported that email, as a method of contact by Internet scammers was up 22% in 2004. While the offer might be legitimate, spammers like to use this tactic to side-step reputable sites that provide consumer protection for online purchases.

3. Always use only reputable e-commerce websites that list their street address and telephone number in case you need to get in touch with them directly.

4. Always read the websites privacy policy. Some websites may reserve the right to sell/give your information to a third party. Check the document to see if they allow an opportunity to opt-out of receiving special offers from third-party vendors or for permission to share your personal information.

5. Always check for a lock symbol in the status bar at the bottom of your Web browser window. Also, do not provide your personal information if the website address does not start with https (a sign that the website is using a secure server).

6. Always choose only verified sellers. Check to see if the vendor is a verified member of a reputable third party such as the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign, or Guardian eCommerce. These third-party sites help to ensure online consumers will be protected when shopping or conducting e-commerce transactions.

7. Always check that the delivery date posted is reasonable. If you have not dealt with the vendor on a regular basis, be cautious of any website that states the shipment will be delayed 20 days or more. Delivery dates of 7-10 days are more common.

8. Always keep a paper trail of all online transactions. Print out a hard copy of the transaction and keep it in a file for future reference.

9. Always be cautious of website offers that just sound too good to be true. The Internet is littered with get rich quick scams and false advertising claims. Investigate all claims thoroughly before proceeding.

10. Always contact your states Department of Consumer Affairs for further assistance if you do not receive what you paid for, and the vendor will not return your emails or calls.

These common sense rules about online purchases will eventually become second nature as you continue to use the Internet. They can also save you untold anguish and alarm when you discover that you have been billed for purchases that were never authorized.

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