There’s no denying the ultimate convenience of shopping online. Thanks to the world wide web, you can buy movie tickets in your underwear, Louboutins at 2am and groceries from an iPhone.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Hidden within this burgeoning community of e-tailers are plenty of shady operations, each designed to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. But getting scammed is one hundred percent avoidable. Here are six safety tips for fraud free internet ordering.
1. Stop the scam before it starts.
We can not emphasize this enough: if you aren’t familiar with the seller or store, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Ninty-nine point nine percent of the time you will be protected by well-known companies such as Macy’s or Zappos. (Yes, we know Zappos’ security was recently breached—we’ll address that situation in rule number 2.) But smaller boutiques offer less assurance. Without the solid evidence that a brick and mortar provides, you will have to dig a little deeper.
Start simple: Google the name of the company in question and try looking it up on shopping-centric sites, like Consumer Reports, Racked or right here, on Luckymag.com. If you are still dubious, attempt searching the name again with "scam" at the end. If you are dealing with fraud, chances are another unsatisfied customer has already reported it. Also, calling always helps. If you can never get an actual person on the phone then it’s probably a business you don’t want to deal with.
2. Be super stingy with your personal information.
First, if you plan on doing a lot of your spending online, consider creating a separate email account, just for transactions. This assures your regular address will not land on any spam lists or fall in the wrong hands. Next, since many e-commerce sites require you to create a profile, use a different password from your personal email and bank account. As we mentioned in our first tip, Zappos.com was recently hacked into, despite it’s usual secure status. Credit card numbers remained safe, but account names and passwords were lifted. Having multiple pins keeps you from being vulnerable in similar situations.
After your first order, many e-commerce sites will offer to save your credit card number for you. This may seem very convenient at first, but we recommend declining. It’s much safer not to have a direct line to your money. Instead, sign up for Paypal, which will saves all your billing information in one secure area. Then, whenever possible, try to shop at places that allow you check out through the payment site. Pretty much anywhere affiliated with Paypal is going to be secure and, if something does go awry, members are guaranteed full refunds—no questions asked.
Finally and most importantly, do not ever (ever!) give out your social security or bank account number. No legit store will ever ask this of you! The only thing that is needed to complete a transaction is your credit card information, accompanied by a shipping and billing address.
3. Investigate the security companies affiliated with the site.
As we mentioned above, PayPal is always a good one to look for. However the McAfee or Verisign emblems at the bottom of the page also ensure consumer protection. Do not take a random stamp that says "Secure Site" at face value; instead, exhaustively background check each affiliated brand. After all, if a scam artist has gone to the trouble of creating a fake business, wouldn’t they also design a false policy to accompany it?
4. Limit your spending to personal devices.
Logging into public systems to buy things makes you susceptible to hackers who might use the same computer later. Everything that you input leaves an easily retrievable trail for those who know how to look. So browse away in internet cafes and public libraries. But don’t whip out the plastic unless you are in the privacy of your own home.
5. Major labels only have one main site.
Although you might find some of your favorite designers at a number of multi-branded sites, be wary of any web pages that sell one type of product exclusively, but aren’t affiliated with the actual label. (I.e., a site that carries just Louboutins but isn’t the official Christian Louboutin site.) Many fake companies will steal product images from legit boutiques, mark them with temptingly low prices and then send a shoddy knock-off to buyers. Do not be fooled by this! As we emphasized in our tutorial on spotting a fake: if it seems too good to be true…it probably is.
6. Above all: trust those instincts!
The majority of the time, you gut is going to tell you something is wrong before you start even start digging. If something seems even a little bit off, you might not bother pursuing the matter at all. There are thousands or shopping options online, why not move on to one you know is completely safe? If you’re looking for a specific item, try searching Shopstyle.com, Boutiques.com or Amazon.com to see what other stores carry it.
What safety tips do you follow when shopping online? Share them with us in the comments below!
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