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Internet Safety Series – Online Shopping

by Rebecca Moonen

I don’t know about you, but I love a good bargain and – with apologies to Gerry Harvey – the best bargains are often found online. Internet shopping has grown in popularity, allowing even the best savers to put a dent in their credit card outside of trading hours. Ideally you want that dent to be for goods that arrive quickly, as described and at the right price. Here are some tips if you’re a newcomer to online spending:

Secure your PC: At the end of the day, an infected system will undermine all of the other precautions you might take to avoid online fraud. Ensure automatic updates are done on your computer, that your virus definitions are up-to-date and that you’re using a firewall to block potential intruders. Use strong passwords, secure your home wireless network and don’t even think about making purchases from an internet café or public computer. Finally, try to avoid the PC that your kids use for chat and downloads – chances are that it’s already infected with spyware that might compromise your transaction.

Bigger is better: Avoid search engine shopping for price comparisons – they often point to mystery merchants you’ve never heard of. Stick with the big guys- eBay, Amazon, ASOS, Strawberry Net or the online presence of your favourite retailer. Assess the expected delivery dates and read the shipping and return policies before parting with your cash. If it’s a smaller company and you desperately need that super cheap iPad- give them a call. No contact details on their webpage spells disaster. So does a voicemail message. Once you speak to a real person you’ll be better informed to make your decision. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

Plastic fantastic: Your credit card comes with built-in security for online purchases. If you don’t receive the goods you ordered or they are of an unacceptable quality and you return them, you can ask your bank to facilitate a chargeback. They may be willing to go into bat for you to cancel the transaction and reverse the payment to the business. Many cards also have reduced liability of how much you might be out of pocket in the event of fraud- check with your bank as to the specifics of your credit card. Consider a card with a lower limit if you’re nervous about using your regular card.  Paypal is another good option.

Count your cash: Don’t wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Check your statements online and as soon as you can, reporting anything unusual to your bank immediately. If you’re unhappy with the transaction, check the seller’s website for information on their dispute process. If there are no guidelines, send them an email outlining the problem, your suggested resolution and any evidence of the transaction. If they’re uncooperative, contact the ACCC (for purchases within Australia) or lodge a complaint with Econsumer (if your transaction was overseas.)

Don’t flash your privates: There should be no reason why a site needs your date of birth as well as your credit card number. If the mere thought about reading through a vendors Privacy Policy puts you to sleep, give them as little information as possible to make the transaction. Check the bottom of the page for SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption – this scrambles (or encrypts) the purchase information you send over the Internet. A good rule is ‘If there’s no padlock then there’s no purchase’. Remember, never send your credit card number over email or directly transfer your cash into the account of a business.

Until next time, happy spending and stay safe people!

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