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Monday, November 28, 2011

Online Shopping: Tips to Protect Yourself

Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Online shopping can make the craziness of the holidays a bit easier to handle. It can be convenient, save time and possibly money as well. There are some risks though. To protect yourself this season consider these tips from the Federal Trade Commission. 
Know who you're dealing with: Do your homework to make sure a company is legitimate before doing business with it. Identify the company's name, its physical address, including the country where it is based, and an e-mail address or telephone number, so you can contact the company with questions or problems.
Shop around: Use the manufacturer and model number of the item to compare prices among merchants. Consider whether shipping is included. If the item is offered for pick-up at a store, consider the cost of parking or public transportation.

In case you need to return items: Understand the terms and conditions regarding refunds, including who pays the shipping costs, and whether there is a restocking fee. Also, print and save records of your online transactions, including all emails to and from the seller.

Protect your personal information: Don’t give out your credit card or other financial information in exchange for a tech toy, a free gift card, a seasonal job, or a holiday vacation rental. Be wary of companies that ask you to send financial information by email. Legitimate companies don’t ask for your financial information via email or pop-up message.

Use caution when buying on public WiFi: Since some hot spots may not have effective security measures in place, don’t be tempted to send sensitive information like your credit card number over that network.

Look for a Secure Checkout: When you do check out make sure the website starts with https (the "s" stands for secure).

Keep your security software updated: Free screen savers, e-cards, or other seasonal downloads can carry dangerous viruses so keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software and your firewall current.

Watch over your financial accounts: Read your statements regularly and making sure they reflect the charges you authorized.


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