Buying Safely Online this Holiday Season

How to make online purchases with prudence

During the holiday season the number of online purchases increases dramatically. According to digital research firm comScore, retail ecommerce spending for the 2010 holiday season-to-date has reached more than $21.95 billion. That is a full 12-percent increase versus the corresponding days last year. This increase comes amid a still faltering economy as well. With all of these online purchases, and the corresponding transfer of credit card information there are bound to be malicious elements looking to take advantage. Therefore, here are 5 tips to buying online safely.

Beware of Special Email OffersAlthough it may be very tempting to click through that special offer in an email, think twice and be wary of any source whose credibility is not absolute. That means if you have received an unsolicited email (in other words you are not on a mailing list at your request) don’t click through any links unless the identity of the sender can be verified. There are a number of different types of scams that can arise when clicking on these non-secure or fraudulent links. For details on the types of fraud perpetrated through these email links you can check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing. If you see a special offer in an email and want to take advantage – but aren’t sure of the legitimacy of the offer – simply visit the website of the vendor directly (not by clicking through the email link) and look for the same offer. Or use the ‘contact’ section of the website to ask for the same deal. Daniel Foster is Technical Director with website hosting company 34SP.com. The company facilitates the sending of millions of email messages each week and offers these important thoughts, ”If you aren’t sure who sent you the email or don’t recognize the ‘from’ address – then don’t click on any links in the email. There are so many great deals listed on legitimate websites that it is probably unnecessary to even worry about special emailed deals. The risks of clicking on a suspect link are simply too great to chance it.”

Look For and Use Brand Name Vendors – The bigger and more well known the brand name of the online merchant you are buying from, the less likely they are to have problems with security. Big brands such as name brand merchants and of course the major online retailers such as Amazon.com have been screening purchases for fraud for many years. Additionally, the secure purchasing mechanisms in place (think SSL certificates, secure servers, and strong relationships with the credit card companies) mean that the likelihood that your card details will be mishandled are significantly reduced.

Know What You Have Actually Purchased – As simple as it seems, one way of severely reducing fraudulent activity on your credit card accounts (whether purchases have been made online or in a bricks-and-mortar retail store) is simply to carefully look at your credit card statement and ensure that all of the purchases are valid. Lou Honick, CEO with credit card processing company Host Merchant Services recommends calling up your credit card account online and looking at each item listed – carefully and one at a time. Mr. Honick notes that ”Often those making fraudulent charges will make smaller purchases and spread them out among more cards. It makes sense to look carefully at each transaction to catch those smaller charges that are in error.”

Consider Having a Separate Credit Card Just for Online Purchases – One other way to protect yourself against the having your credit card information used (whether after an online purchase or not) is to keep the maximum spending limit low on the card. That way if the details are taken, the amount that can be charged against the card are limited. Of course credit card companies do protect you against fraud and will refund any proven fraudulent purchases, but simply reducing the spending power of the card may prevent a large illegal shopping spree. Additionally, if you have just one credit card that you designate for online purchases, then you can reduce the risk of fraud down to just one card. Then you will only need to carefully check one card when looking through the list of purchases as mentioned above.

Examine Websites for Signs of Security – If you are using a website that you are not very familiar with for an online purchase, you can still protect yourself by carefully examining the website for signs that they are taking security and customer well-being seriously. For example you can always look for or check the Better Business Bureau seal or website. This indicates that the website is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. Similarly you can check for the logo of secure certificate providers like Trustwave. These secure logos ensure that your credit card details are safe when being entered into online forms. If you still aren’t sure after an examination of the website, you can always search online for consumer reviews or warnings about unscrupulous sellers as well.

About the Author
Derek Vaughan is a web hosting industry veteran, marketing consultant and writer. Mr. Vaughan has architected the marketing growth of several prominent web hosting success stories leading to acquisition including Affinity Internet, Inc., Aplus.Net and HostMySite.com. Prior to his entry into the web hosting industry, Mr. Vaughan was responsible for online marketing at The Walt Disney Company where he marketed ecommerce for the ESPN.com and NASCAR.com brands. Mr. Vaughan received his M.B.A. from Vanderbilt University and currently serves on the HostingCon Advisory Board.

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