NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Ho, Ho, Ho for Online Shopping

Ho, Ho, Ho for Online Shopping

Online shopping is always a great way to compare prices, pick up bargains and track down those hard-to-find gifts and even more so during the holiday shopping season.  Make it a safe holiday season and avoid scams by following a few sensible rules and staying alert for warning signs.

Take extra care if you’re buying from a company that’s not well known. Startup companies and businesses may offer great deals and a specialty product you are looking for but check that their site is secure before sharing credit card info.

Avoid buying from companies you don’t recognize, unless they’ve been recommended by someone trustworthy.

-           Don't judge a book by its cover – a slick website can be a front for a shady business.

  • Get their full contact details. An email address or mobile number isn’t enough – you need to be able to access the company’s address and telephone number. And, you might want to call them before you buy. If you can’t find an address and contact details, be very cautious.
  • Take care with overseas companies. You’re less likely to have heard of them, so it’s harder to judge if they’re legitimate.
  • Check the site's privacy and returns policy. It should tell you what you can do if you’re not happy with your purchase, and whether your details will be passed on to other people (often meaning you’ll get spam emails).
  • Check customer reviews. Individual sellers on Amazon and eBay can sometimes be unreliable, but they should have ratings from other shoppers to give you an idea.
  • Keep printouts. You should keep a copy of your order and anything else the company sends you, for example an email telling you that your item has been shipped. You should be able to save these on your computer if you don’t want to print them out.
  • Match up your bank or card statement. Check that the money going out of your account matches the amount that you spent.
  • Keep your passwords secure. Yes, it can be difficult but use different passwords for different sites and never reuse passwords from your banking web sites.
  • Take your time. If you’re not comfortable, or you’re not sure what you want to buy, you can always try again later, or get a second opinion or find a better-known supplier.
  • Never transfer or receive money for someone else.
  • You should only put your card details into sites that are secure – otherwise someone else could intercept them and use them for fraud. On a secure site, you should see a few reassuring signs.

  • The padlock symbol. Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window – in the frame of the browser, not in the web page itself. This suggests that the site is secure, but it’s not a guarantee, and it doesn’t mean that the seller is honest.
  • A valid certificate. If you click on the padlock, or just to the left of the address bar, you should see information on the site certificate. This should tell you who has registered the site. If you get a warning about a certificate, be very cautious indeed.
  • Using an e-money company (like PayPal or Google Checkout) means you don’t need to give out your credit card details every time you shop. However, you don't get the same legal protection if things go wrong.

    And always, that age old consumer advice applies, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”

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