Researching companies upfront can keep consumers from getting snagged
For the most part, shopping online is as safe as visiting your local mall. As long as you know what to look out for, there's no reason to battle traffic or long lines when you can just as easily order what you want while lying on your sofa. But every year, thousands of customers run into online scams. Researching companies in advance, even through a simple web search, can help people avoid such traps.
Here are nine tips to keep you from being a victim:
Make sure you know your retailer before handing over credit card information.
Consumers should always start by doing some simple research before making any purchases. Websites such as the
Don't yield to pressure.
High-pressure sales often result in impulsive decisions. An additional few minutes for comparison shopping at local stores and obtaining the exact prices of other options help shoppers know if they are over-paying or not.
Review your credit card statement each month.
If you find an unauthorized charge on your statement, contact your bank or credit card company immediately. Your bank might be able to provide other protective steps, as well, such as issuing a new card. As a final resort, consumers may file formal disputes with the
If you order products that never get delivered, tell your credit card company to stop payment.
If the company cannot ship within a 30-day period or within the advertised time, it must notify you and permit you to cancel or agree to the delay. If you cancel, a full refund of any money paid or a credit memorandum showing your cleared account must be provided within seven days. If you do not respond to the notice, the company has a right to assume you agree to the delay.
Only two types of merchandise can be sent legally through the U.S. mail without a consumer's prior consent: free samples that are clearly indicated as such, and merchandise mailed by a charitable organization asking for contributions. If you receive unordered merchandise through the mail, you may consider it as your property. It is illegal for a company to bill you for any merchandise you did not expressly order. Your credit card company can help you reverse any payments that have already been issued.
Beware of "all sales are final" language.
Some retailers prohibit returns. (Sometimes it's done for good reason; children's bicycle helmets, for example, can't be returned for safety reasons.) Understanding the retailers' policy can prevent confusion later.
Never click on links in emails from strangers that lead to online shopping sites.
Fraudsters send emails with links to sites that look like legitimate shopping sites but are actually designed to steal personal information. It's safer to find a site through a Web search or to shop online at a familiar store.
Check the protections offered by your credit card.
About 60 percent of 2007's
Mix your credit card number.
Card issuers are increasingly offering customers the ability to create a new credit card number for each online store where they shop. That way, if someone else gets hold of your card number and tries to use it elsewhere, it won't work. At Discover, for example, consumers can log on to their online account to create a unique, secure number for each merchant.
Change up your passwords.
Consumers are tasked with remembering dozens of passwords for various retailers, banks, and accounts, making it almost impossible to remember them all, especially since they often include mixes of numbers and letters. Keep careful track of your passwords in a secure document, rely on mnemonic devices to boost your memory, or come up with some other clever strategy -- but don't stick with simple passwords that are easy for strangers to guess. Also, change your passwords on a regular basis.
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