Tech Talk
August 25, 2006
Internet shopping guidelines

E-Commerce is technically defined as a process where Financial Transactions like Shopping are carried out through Electronic Media like Television, Telephones, Fax, and recently through the Online Shopping Websites.

With just a click of the mouse, shoppers can buy nearly any product online – from groceries to cars, from insurance policies to home loans. The world of electronic commerce, enables consumers to shop at thousands of online stores and pay for their purchases without leaving the comfort of home. For many, the Internet has taken the place of Saturday afternoon window-shopping at the mall.{{more}}

These consumers expect merchants to not only make their products available on the Web but to make payments a simple and secure process. However, the same things can go wrong shopping in cyberspace as in the real world. Sometimes it is simply a case of a computer glitch or poor customer service. Other times, shoppers are cheated by clever scam artists.

A survey by AC Nielsen found that the top security concerns of America’s online shoppers were:

* Not receiving the items purchased, or receiving items different from what was described.

* Email addresses being sold to third parties.

* Fears about personal or financial information being stolen.

* Email scams known as “phishing” or “spoofing” in which consumers receive messages from dishonest sources disguised as messages from trusted retailers or financial institutions.

Just as shoppers should take measures to protect themselves in brick-and-mortar stores online shoppers also need to take sensible precautions. This guide offers advice on how to make your online shopping experiences enjoyable and safe.

Take the time to secure your computer’s security:

You can identify a “secure” webpage by the icon on your screen with most browsers or “https://” instead of “http://”. At a secure webpage, your information submitted (passwords, address, credit card information, etc.) is encrypted (or scrambled) so that only the intended receiver can unscramble your information with a specific protected key that unlocks your information so your order can be processed.

Most websites with a secure area will have an icon or logo, usually on their homepage that indicates a secure site certification. If you have Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, the icon is a closed padlock. With the “Firefox” internet browser ( the address bar turns yellow to signify a secure connection.

I strongly recommend that you check your computer thoroughly for viruses, spyware and malware (key-loggers, etc) prior to shopping online. It is also recommended that you install all the latest security updates to your operating system and internet browser.

Read the Web Site’s Privacy and Security Policies

Every reputable e-commerce web site offers information about how it processes your order. It is usually listed in the section entitled “Privacy Policy.” You can find out if the merchant intends to share your information with a third party or affiliate company. Do they require these companies to refrain from marketing to their customers? If not, you can expect to receive “spam” (unsolicited e-mail) and even mail or phone solicitations from these companies.

Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe (, Verisign (, or BBBonline (

Reliable companies should advertise their physical business address and at least one phone number, either a customer service or an order line. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine if the business is legitimate. Ask how the merchant handles returned merchandise and complaints. Find out if it offers full refunds or only store credits.

What’s Safest: Credit Cards, Debit Cards, Cash, or Cheques?

The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card. If something goes wrong, you’re protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. If it’s determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are responsible only for the first $50USD in charges. You are rarely asked to pay this charge. We recommend that you obtain one credit card that you use only for online payments to make it easier to detect wrongful credit charges.

Disclose Only the Bare Facts When You Order

When placing an order, there is certain information that you must provide to the web merchant, such as your name and address. Often, a merchant will try to obtain more information about you. It may ask questions about your leisure lifestyle or annual income. This information is used to target you for marketing purposes. It can lead to “spam” or even direct mail and telephone solicitations.

Don’t answer any question you feel isn’t required to process your order. Often, the web site will mark which questions need to be answered with an asterisk (*). Should a company require information you’re not comfortable sharing, leave the site and find a different company for the product you seek.

Check the Web Site Address

Above the web site at the top of your screen is a rectangular window that contains the web site address (also called the URL, or Uniform Resource Locator). By checking that address, you can make sure that you are dealing with the correct company.

Don’t click on any link embedded within a potentially suspicious email. Instead, start a new Internet session from the beginning by typing in the link’s URL into the address bar and pressing “Enter” to be sure you’re directed to a legitimate web site.

Use Shopper’s Intuition

Look at the site with a critical eye. And heed the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

* Are there extraordinary claims that you question?

* Do the company’s prices seem unusually low?

* Does it look like the merchant is an amateur?

* Are there a lot of spelling or grammar errors?

* Does the company’s phone go unanswered.

* The use of a post office box might not send up a red flag, but a merchant who does not also provide the company’s physical address might be cause for concern.

If any of these questions trigger a warning bell in your head, you will be wise to find another online merchant.