One of the coolest capabilities enabled by the Internet is that when you’re using it, you’re not bound by geographical location. This is especially handy when you’re shopping. Before the Internet, you were pretty much stuck with the selection and prices in the stores around your home. Now, you can shop anywhere, anytime, and you can be competitive about it.
Of course, there are some risks that come with shopping on-line, too. Although identity theft is more common in the real world, it still happens on-line pretty frequently, as does credit card fraud. So staying safe while you’re shopping on-line is paramount. Here are some tips for shopping safely on-line:
Before You Buy
Comparison shop—Use comparison sites or a search engine to look for the best deals, but be wary of deals that sound too good to be true. If an on-line merchant’s prices seem unusually low compared to others, look for tell tale signs that you could be on a fraudulent site. Are there any typos on the site? Does the company ask for unnecessary information such as your Social Security number or date of birth? If so, consider looking around for a different merchant to buy from.
Do background checks on the re-tailer—Make sure that the re-tailer has a physical address and phone number listed. If you are suspicious about the site, call the company's phone number to see if a representative is available. Also, look for information such as how long the company has been in business, customer service policies, and whether they offer warranties, repairs, or returns.
Read customer reviews—Another important step in investigating an on-line merchant is to do a search for customer reviews. If there are multiple complaints about the company, proceed with caution.
Understand the shipping policies and delivery times—Look into shipping and handling fees and make sure they seem reasonable to you. You want to make sure that you understand all your shipping options and how they will affect your total cost.
Since you may need your purchase by a specific date, you should investigate the time it will take for delivery. Some merchants take time to process the order before they ship, so look at their shipping policy to determine the actual delivery date. In the U.S., the law states that merchants who do not have a shipping policy posted on their site must ship merchandise within 30 days of receiving an order.
You will also want to check to see if they have shipping insurance. If you are buying from a foreign merchant, check to see if they ship internationally.
Some merchants even offer free shipping so look into this before you make a final purchase decision.
Know your options when it comes to returns and exchanges—Since it is difficult to determine things like quality and fit when shopping on-line, it is important to check out the merchant’s return and exchange policies. Is there a time limit or other restrictions on returns? You should also see if there is a restocking charge in case you need to return an order.
If the merchant does accept returns, you should find out if they will fully refund the charges or if you will get store credit. If the merchant only offers store credits, see if there are any time restrictions on using the credit.
By following these tips, and doing a little homework ahead of time, you can expect a safer shopping experience.