Since consumers began using the Internet to make purchases, the popularity of online sales has snowballed dramatically, even to the point that brick-and-mortar sellers are actually suffering from the competition. But consumers have also suffered because of online scams that go to great lengths to take advantage of people who do internet shopping for a bargain. How can you protect yourself from being the victim of an Internet sales fraud?
Be sure you know who the seller is.
If you are purchasing something from a website or company you are unfamiliar with, be sure to research it carefully. If the seller is local, you can check with state or local consumer protection agencies or even your local Better Business Bureau. Some websites, such as eBay, half.com, and Amazon, have feedback forums where buyers can rate and comment on sellers and how satisfied they were with their transactions. However, remember that if there are no complaints posted for a seller, that isn't always a guarantee that the seller is legit. Other online stores that are individually owned are not policed and monitored like eBay and online auction sites. For sites such as these, be sure to make note of the seller's physical address, and a contact phone number, in case you have a problem after the purchase and need to get in touch with someone to resolve it.
Be sure you understand the terms of the sale.
Legitimate sellers will provide details about all the products you purchase, including the total price, delivery charges, time to deliver, cancellation policies, and refund information. If a seller doesn't provide enough information, is vague or reluctant to respond to inquiries, or does not have policies posted on their website, then you would do well to be cautious before buying from them. Be particularly wary of prices that are incredibly low-priced, or ads for rebates that supposedly cover the whole cost of the product. Shipping and handling charges may be extremely excessive, and that's why the supposed 'rebate' covers the total cost.
Find out how complaints are handled by the seller.
There are several very good policing agencies such as Verisign, which sellers can join to show that they are legitimate and reputable sellers. If the seller is located in another country, it is particularly important to learn about complaints ahead of time, since resolving them across borders can be especially tricky. Search online for information about how the company has handled disputes in the past, and see if there are any programs it participates in that require the seller to meet certain standards for reliability.
Protect your personal information.
The safest way to pay for an online purchase is with a credit card, because you can dispute the charges with your card company if the products are never delivered or the description doesn't match what arrives in the mail. But don't give out your credit card information unless you are paying for a purchase. Sellers should not ask for credit card information before providing you with all the information you need in order to make a purchasing decision. According to federal law, your liability is limited to $50 if someone charges your account fraudulently, and most credit card issuers will remove those charges if you report it to them promptly. But your social security number should never be requested for completing a purchase online.
Watch out for imposters and unsolicited e-mails.
If you get an e-mail that seems to have come from a company you regularly do business with, and they are asking for information that you have already given them, do not reply and give them that information. Instead, contact the company and let them know about the e-mail you received. Chances are that it was a fraudulent note, and the company will appreciate your reporting it. Do not reply to the e-mail itself, because if it is indeed a fraud, the sender will then know that your e-mail address is a valid one and you may be opening yourself up to still more unwanted e-mails from strangers. Delete any suspect e-mails.
The Internet can be a terrific place to fish for online bargain shopping that will save you money, but there are plenty of sharks swimming in those online waters. Be sure that you take the time to research a seller, get plenty of information about the sale, and protect your private information, and your online purchases will be smooth sailing.