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  • 4m.

    Shopping Online The Smart Way

    If you feel like a website you’re on or an email you received might not be on the level, check a few third-party sources before giving them your business (or, worse, your identity).
    Updated: October 23, 2015

    What You'll Learn

    • How shopping with a credit card protects you.
    • What to look for when checking if a site is legit.
    • When banks would email you for personal information (hint: never!).
    Close-up on pen and credit card on keyboard

    Even people who are very familiar with online shopping can get tricked into scams. It isn't difficult for scammers to copy a lot of the little symbols that show you a site is trustworthy, like the Verisign logo and the PayPal Verified certificate.

    These companies scan the Web daily to ensure people aren't misrepresenting their endorsement, but before they can shut a scam site down, you might already be among its victims. That's why it's important to check a few third-party sources when it feels like a site you're on or an email you've received might not be on the level.

    Play It Safe

    The easiest way to avoid scams is by shopping from well known, trusted sources like Amazon and eBay. Companies like these have measures in place to protect shoppers against fraud. You can easily dispute a charge if you never receive your item, and if the seller doesn't cover the expense, typically the retailer will.

    For other sites, try to use credit cards or the credit function of your debit card when paying for purchases. Credit cards have benefits that debit cards don't. For instance, they make it easier for you to dispute charges, and they also have fraud protection programs in place for when a scammer steals your card number.

    Sometimes you can't find what you need through one of the big, online retailers. In that case, here are a few things to check for:

    • See if the website is verified through a third party like SSL Checker or the Better Business Bureau.
    • Call their phone number to ask about their return policy. A lot of scam companies either won't answer the phone or won't be happy to discuss details with you.
    • Google the company's name to see if they're mentioned anywhere else online. If you can't find much information, it's probably a scam.

    Risky Business

    Like the old saying goes: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When you get an email from a wealthy exiled prince promising a huge payout in return for your bank account number, you should go with your gut and press the delete key. However, the same thing goes for emails from your bank.

    Banks will never send you emails asking you to email them personal details for any reason; they'll ask you to give them a call or go to their site, log on, and safely take care of your banking issues there.

    With advances in software and computer literacy, anyone can make a pretty convincing e-commerce website or banner ad now. Luckily, there are a lot of warning signs you can look for. When shopping online, pay special attention to the following:

    • Payments through Western Union or MoneyGram. Wiring money is the number one way scammers take your money. Avoid this type of payment at all costs.
    • Requests for personal information. You should never give out things like your Social Security number or passwords unless it's through a secure federal form or something of that caliber.
    • Unsolicited emails. If you receive an email you weren't expecting, just delete it.
    • Contests and pressuring language. Legitimate companies will always give you all the details about their products upfront; they won't try to rush you into a decision.
    • Job postings that look too good to be true. "Sit at home and make $50 an hour for reading online articles!" (Yeah, right.)
    • Any and all downloads for anything ever. Don't be afraid to download—just triple-check what exactly you're downloading and from where you're getting it.
    • Claims that you have a computer virus. These advertisements claim they'll fix your computer, and then they infect it instead.

    Stick to trusted e-commerce sites, but don't forget to check your credit card and bank statements each month for irregularities. If you feel that something online seems too good to be true, check out a few third parties to see if you can verify the site's credentials.

    If you can't find information about a company or website, you're probably better off shopping somewhere else. Try to use your credit card for online purchases so you can dispute any fraudulent charges, and beware of any links in any emails you weren't expecting, including emails that look like they come from your own bank.

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