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Shop Safely - How to Protect Yourself When Shopping Online
 by: Clive Chansa

Online shopping offers many benefits that you won't find shopping in a brick and mortar store or by mail. The Internet is always open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. Internet-only deals and bargains can be numerous online. Shopping on the Internet is no less safe than shopping in a store or by mail. Keep the following tips in mind to help ensure that your online shopping experience is a safe one.

1. While Online Order Only On A Secure Server.

Use a secure browser and shop only at websites that offer encryption protection. A protected website will have one or more of these three features:

a) The small lock or key symbol at the bottom of your browser window;

b) An address that starts with https ("s" for "secure") instead of just http; and

c) A security warning box that pops up at the point of purchase.

Your browser should comply with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). These standards scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, helping to secure your transaction.

2. Pay The Safest Way.

Use a credit card or Debit Card with a safe online shopping guarantee. Look for a card with specific guarantees, like 100% coverage for any losses due to fraud when shopping on the Internet. Many companies offer an online shopping guarantee that ensures you will not be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made online, and some cards may provide additional warranty, return and/or purchase protection benefits.

3. Protect Your Privacy.

Look for and read a website's privacy and security policy. Stay clear of a website that either doesn't have one or does not guarantee your personal information will not be sold. This policy should disclose what information is being collected on the Web site and how that information is being used.

4. Know Who You're Dealing With.

Research your merchant. Look at the ratings consumers give them and stay clear of websites that either aren't listed or receive poor marks. Shop with companies you know. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you're not familiar with a merchant, ask for a paper catalogue or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Also, determine the company's refund and return policies before you place your order. These should be posted on the company's Web site.

5. Keep A Record.

Print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records. Reputable merchants will usually send you an email confirming your order. However a hard copy is always good to have in case your order is lost, deleted or not delivered as promised.

6. Guard Your Online Password.

Keep your password(s) private. Be creative when you establish a password, and never share your website passwords with anyone. Write them down and store them in a safe place. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of numbers, letters and symbols. Do not use the same username and password at every website. Should your personal information be compromised, a thief won't get very far if you use different passwords and usernames on different websites.

7. Track Your Purchases.

Use only one credit card to shop with online. This helps keep track of your online purchases during the holidays, and will make it easier to spot purchases that are fraudulent. Look for a card that allows you to review transactions online as well -- you'll be more likely to notice a problem early on.

8. Keep Personal Information Private.

Don't enter more information at a merchant website than is absolutely necessary. There is usually no reason why you should have to supply information such as birth dates or Social Security numbers when making a purchase. Fill in only the bare essentials necessary to make your purchase. If you have children, teach them to check with you before giving out personal - or family - information online.