While the Internet is a wonderful place to get deals and bargains, where coupon codes and rebate deals are easier to find than the offline world, there is also a dark side, where scammers are trying their best to get their hands on your hard earned money. Here are some ways to protect yourself while shopping online:
Use A Credit Card
Most credit card companies will protect you should you experience a problem with a purchase. Some of them even have special online shopping credit cards, where you can get a special one time use only credit card number for use at a certain store. These offer excellent protection if you're worried about the security of the website you are purchasing from. This way, the company can only charge the card once and then the number is unusable.
Check Order Form and Cart Security
You can visually see if the form or cart you are using is secure and the information you send to the merchant is properly encrypted by checking the bottom of your screen and looking for a key or lock. The lock should be closed to indicate a secured page. The key should be whole and not broken. Alternately, you can usually right click on the background of the page and select PROPERTIES, the window that pops up will tell you if the page is encrypted and secure. SSL technology is a standard for most merchants carts and forms, so look for "SSL Technology" as the connection.
To protect yourself from phishing, which are fake websites that entice you to enter your personal information, make sure to use the latest version of Internet Explorer. IE7 has built in anti-phishing technology which should help you discern a real site from a fake site.
Make sure to run Windows Update before shopping, so you download the latest security patches and updates. This will further enhance the security of your browser.
Beware Shipping Costs
Shipping costs are probably the worst thing about online shopping. With fuel costs still high and shipping companies constantly raising their prices, shipping costs are higher than ever. Save on shipping costs by taking advantage of posted flat rate shipping deals and free shipping coupon codes. You can also sometimes save money by choosing to buy from online stores that are closer to you. Let's say you shop on eBay for an XBOX and two sellers offer the XBOX at a price you like. One seller is located in Florida, the other in Arizona. You live in California. Obviously, the shipping will be much less to ship the item to you from Arizona than from Florida. This works only for sellers who offer actual shipping costs to your zip code, however.
Read Return Policies
Before you make a purchase, be sure to read the return policy. Some online merchants have terrible return policies. Let's say you buy a computer monitor from a merchant who offered the best price, but it was a lesser known merchant. Once the UPS man brings it and you discover it doesn't work, you check out the return policy only to find out that you must pay to ship the item back, you must pay a 25% re-stocking fee and you won't receive your refund until another 30 days pass after that. It's not pleasant to find out the return policy is like this only after you find you need to return something! Always read the return policy before making your purchase!
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