Safe Online Shopping

Know what you are buying.

Counterfeiting isn’t just about money–well, it is, it’s just not all about counterfeit money. International counterfeiting of name brand merchandise is slugging it out with identity theft for the fastest growing crime of the 21st Century. A recent FBI estimate says US trademark holders lose $250 billion to fakes and forgeries every year. This hurts legitimate online merchants as much as it hurts shoppers.

For consumers, these scams are not just about the money. Most counterfeit goods are cheaper because they are cheaper, meaning counterfeiters cut costs by cutting quality. Imagine putting substandard brake shoes on your car, or feeding low-grade formula to your infant. Worse yet, fraud profits are often used to finance other illegal activities. People who want a good deal and don’t ask the right questions may be supporting drug dealers, terrorists, pornographers and other criminals.

Likewise, some sell authentic merchandise that isn’t what it claims to be. Certain products, such as jewelry, have very specific definitions prescribed by law. For example, marketing a cultured pearl as a natural pearl or implying that gold is pure, attaching tiny-print stating it is only 18kt, is misrepresentation (also called fraud) and carries severe criminal and civil penalties.

Know from whom you are buying.

Check the contact information posted on the website. If you can’t find it, go elsewhere–never give money to people if you can’t get in touch with them to resolve problems. Be wary of a merchant who hides behind an email address. If you don’t recognize the merchant, research them online. Avoid merchants with negative consumer feedback.

Make sure that merchants’ websites use a secure server. Most URLs start with ”http”; secure server URLs start with ”https” and have a key or a closed padlock icon appearing in one of the corners of the browser window. This ensures your personal information is scrambled or encrypted. Hackers sometimes get through, but a secure server means your merchant is working to keep your personal data personal.

Keep private transactions private.

Do not to use shared computers in libraries or computer labs when online shopping. Criminals can place keystroke monitors onto these computers, allowing them to see exactly what you’ve typed. If you don’t log out properly, your session can remain open and others can access your accounts.

Most credit card companies limit the liability of their customers when it comes to fraudulent use of their credit cards. Debit card rules vary from bank to bank. Because a debit card deducts money directly (and sometimes immediately) from your checking or savings account, it can take weeks or months to resolve disputes. Online purchases by credit card are, in many ways, safer.