Robb Hicken: Avoid pitfalls of online shopping

Better Business BureauFebruary 13, 2014 

Today’s valentines — from cards to floral arrangements — are easier to send because of the Internet. But be on the lookout for posers — businesses and people pretending to be something or someone they’re not.

The Internet is fast, convenient and offers more choices than your may find locally. The problem is that criminals also troll the sites, hitting consumers at vulnerable moments with enticing deals and the possibility for a perfect match. Consumers need to keep their guard up and their eyes focused on the truth behind these offers. It’s no surprise that Internet business is booming, for good and bad.

Before you buy something special for your sweetheart, know whom you’re buying from. Consumers are encouraged to check out the company and all parties affiliated with them first.

Know what you’ve ordered and see if any “extras” have been added to your cart. Terms and conditions for websites can also reveal a lot about the business and the service you can expect. It can be well worth a review before you head to the ‘check out.’

BBB has these tips to keep you safe online:

Look for background. Sites should contain basic information about the company and its products and services. A phone number and physical street address for the company should be posted.

Look for affiliations. Does the company display a seal to show affiliations with any organizations? Seals often imply credibility, and you should check with these organizations in a separate search to find out what the affiliation means and what the company must do to be associated with them. If you can't find them listed, shop elsewhere.

Look for privacy policies. The company should tell you how they use your personal information, and if information is shared with third parties, they should respect your wish not to have it shared.

Find out what others are saying. Ask friends who have done business with the company. Surf the Web to see what news media and other sites report about them. Check out the company's reliability report with the appropriate BBB.

Look for special customer services. Many sites have features such as “virtual models” for selecting apparel, gardening libraries for buying seeds, music clips for choosing CD's, or other features that help you select products that fit your needs.

Shop secure sites. When moving to the checkout section, make sure you see the URL in the checkout area that begins with “https:” which confirms you are shopping on a secure server. A unbroken key or locked padlock at the bottom or top of the screen can also be an indicator, but these symbols can be replicated easily and are not the best form of security confirmation.

Pay by credit card. Consumers have all the same protections shopping online as they have when shopping in retail stores or catalogs. You’ll be covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act in the event of non-delivery or fraud.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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