Shopping online can have its pitfalls and as identity theft has become more common consumers must be particularly careful.
There are several things you must consider before wandering off into cyber-shopping, here are just a few:
Shop at Secure Web-Sites
A secure web-site uses encryption technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant's computer. Encryption scrambles the information you send, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from obtaining it en route. The only people who can unscramble the code are those with legitimate access privileges. You can tell when you are dealing with a secure Web-site in several ways:
First, if you look at the top of your screen where the Web-site address is displayed, you should see https://. The "s" that is displayed after "http" indicates that Web-site is secure. Often, you do not see the "s" until you actually move to the order page on the Web-site.
Another way to determine if a Web-site is secure is to look for a closed padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.
The third symbol that indicates you are on a secure site is an unbroken key.
Know Your Merchant
You should be familiar with the name and reputation of any company you're dealing with online. If you plan to shop with a company that is unfamiliar, do your homework before buying their products and start out with an inexpensive order to determine if the company is trustworthy.
Reliable companies should advertise their physical address, and email address and at least one phone number. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine if the business is actually legitimate.
Check the Privacy/Security Policy
If the company markets to its customers you can expect to receive “spam” (unsolicited email) and even mail or phone solicitations.
What Are The Cancellation, Return and Complaint-Handling Policies?
Despite best efforts, consumers sometimes need to return merchandise. Before you buy check the web-site for cancellation and return policies. Find out the following:
- Is there a restocking charge if you need to cancel or return the order?
- Do you get a store credit, or will the company fully refund your charges? If the merchant only offers store credits, find out the time restriction for using this credit.
- Is there a customer service email address and or phone number for queries or complaints?
- Can the items be repaired or serviced in Bermuda?
- Is there a warranty on the product, what are the terms and conditions, and how does it apply to Bermuda?
- What is the time limit or other restrictions to the return or cancellation?
- Who pays for the shipping if the item is returned?
Key Shipping Questions
- Are there any geographic or other restrictions for delivery?
- Are there choices for shipping?
- Who pays the shipping cost?
- Is shipping insurance available?
- What are the shipping and handling fees, and are they reasonable?
Stick To the Facts
When placing an order, you must provide certain information such as your name and address – web-sites will mark which questions are mandatory with an asterisk (*). However, don’t answer questions that you feel are not required to process your order, such as lifestyle or income questions. This information is most often used for marketing purposes.
Watch Out for "Phishing" Messages
There is no shortage of emails from identity thieves that ask us to update the account information for their banks, credit cards, online payment service, or popular shopping sites. The email may state that your account information has expired, been compromised or lost and that you need to immediately resend it to the company.
Legitimate businesses do not ask for sensitive information via email so don’t respond at all and don’t click on any link embedded within a suspicious email.
Always Print and Save Copies of Your Orders
After placing an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that reviews your entire order. It should have a confirmation number and include all the costs of the order, your customer information, product information, company name, address, phone number and legal terms and conditions. The confirmation page should also include return and warranty information.
If you receive a confirmation message via email, print and save that as well.
If you encounter problems with merchandise obtained overseas, Consumer Affairs can only provide assistance in putting you in contact with a Consumer Affairs authority in the country or state from which the merchandise was obtained.
Buying online has its benefits but remember to shop around for the best price and make sure you are safe and secure before you purchase.