Archive for category Shopping

Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson – 8 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. They 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 is not 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 are not comfortable sharing, leave >the site and find a different company for the product you seek.

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson – 7 Never Give Out Your Social Security Number)

Providing your Social Security number is not a requirement for placing an order at an e-commerce Web site. There is no need for the merchant to ask for it. Giving out your Social Security number could lead to having your identity stolen. (See PRC Fact Sheet 17a, “Identity Theft: What to Do if It Happens to You,”

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson – 5 – Be Aware of Cookies and Behavioral Marketing)

Online merchants as well as other sites watch our shopping and surfing habits by using “cookies,” an online tracking system that attaches pieces of code to our Internet browsers to track which sites we visit as we search the Web.

“Persistent” cookies remain stored on your computer while “per-session” cookies expire when you turn the browser off. Online merchants use cookies to recognize you and speed up the shopping process the next time you visit. You may be able to set your browser to disable or refuse cookies but the tradeoff may limit the functions you can perform online, and possibly prevent you from ordering online.

Privacy advocates worry that as more and more data is compiled about us — without our knowledge or active consent — it will be combined to reveal a detailed profile, even our actual identities. This data is often collected to market goods and services to us, encouraging us to buy them. There are a number of companies that specialize in targeted online advertising called “behavioral marketing.” Companies say consumers benefit by being exposed to more targeted advertising and that online merchants can make more money more efficiently by targeting the right shoppers.

For example, you might buy a book on golf from Amazon, visit the Professional Golfer’s Association site, purchase golf shoes at Zappos, and search online for golf courses near your home. When you do, your computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) number could be used to generate golf-related ads. When you open the USA Today site to read the morning news, you may see an ad offering you a new set of clubs at a discount. When you go back to Amazon later that day you might be offered a biography of Tiger Woods.

What if your behavioral marketing profile is shared with others, without your permission? You might not care if a drug company shares your prescription drug information with a coupon service to save you money. But what if that same information were obtained by your employer, resulting in more expensive health insurance coverage?

Consumer groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require companies to get consumers’ permission (opt-in) before collecting or sharing any personal information about them, such as their computer’s IP number. Many of these groups also recommend creating a “Do Not Track” list for those who do not wish to be followed online, patterned after the widely used Do Not Call list.

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson – 6 – What’s Safest: Credit Cards, Debit Cards, Cash, or Checks?)

The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card. In the event something goes wrong, you are 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. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 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. For more information on credit card consumer protections, see

E-commerce shopping by check leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud. And sending a cashier’s check or money order doesn’t give you any protection if you have problems with the purchase.

Make sure your credit card is a true credit card and not a debit card, a check card, or an ATM card. As with checks, a debit card exposes your bank account to thieves. Your checking account could be wiped out in minutes. Further, debit and ATM cards are not protected by federal law to the extent that credit cards are.

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson -4 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.

You can also learn what type of information is gathered by the Web site, and how it is — or is not — shared with others. The online merchant’s data security practices are also often explained in the Privacy Policy, or perhaps a separate Security Policy.

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 (

However, be aware that a strong privacy policy and membership in a Web-seal program don’t guarantee that the Web merchant will protect your privacy for all time. Policies can change. The company can file for bankruptcy and sell its customer data base. The Web merchant might be purchased by another company with a weaker privacy policy. And the company’s data can be subpoenaed for law enforcement investigations or civil cases. You have little control over the use of your customer data in such matters.

Given all of these uncertainties, you will want to think about the sensitivity of the data that is being compiled about you when you shop online. We cannot prescribe the best approach to take. Each consumer has a different interpretation of what is considered “sensitive.”

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson -3 Research the Web Site Before You Order)

Do business with companies you already know. If the company is unfamiliar, do your homework before buying their products. If you decide to buy something from an unknown company, start out with an inexpensive order to learn if the company is trustworthy.

Reliable companies should advertise their physical business address and at least one phone number, either customer service or an order line. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine if the business is legitimate. Even if you call after hours, many companies have a “live” answering service, especially if they don’t want to miss orders. Ask how the merchant handles returned merchandise and complaints. Find out if it offers full refunds or only store credits.

You can also research a company in Internet yellow pages, through the Better Business Bureau (see listing below), or a government consumer protection agency like the district attorney’s office or the Attorney General. Perhaps friends or family members who live in the city listed can verify the validity of the company. Remember, anyone can create a Web site.

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson 2 – Shop at Secure Web Sites)

How can you tell if a Web site is secure? It uses encryption technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant’s computer. Encryption scrambles the information you send, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from obtaining it en route. The only people who can unscramble the code are those with legitimate access privileges. You can tell when you are dealing with a secure Web site in several ways:

  • First, if you look at the top of your screen where the Web site address is displayed, you should see https://. The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that Web site is secure. Often, you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page on the Web site.
  • Another way to determine if a Web site is secure is to look for a closed padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.
  • The third symbol that indicates you are on a secure site is an unbroken key.

Of course, transmitting your data over secure channels is of little value to you if the merchant stores the data unscrambled. You should try to find out if the merchant stores the data in encrypted form. If a hacker is able to intrude, it cannot obtain your credit data and other personal information. Be sure to read the merchant’s privacy and security policies to learn how it safeguards your personal data on its computers. (Wait for Lesson 4)

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Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson 1 – Introduction)

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, also known as e-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. 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.

An April 2004 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.
  • E-mail scans known as “phishing” or “spoofing” in which consumers receive messages from dishonest sources disguised as messages from trusted retailers or financial institutions.

Recent surveys have found that the number of people who shop online around the globe is increasing dramatically. (Trends in Online Shopping: A Global Nielsen Consumer Report (Feb. 2008),

Just as shoppers should take measures to protect themselves in brick-and-mortar stores — such as protecting their PIN numbers when checking out and not leaving purses unattended — online shoppers also need to take sensible precautions. This guide offers advice on how to make your online shopping experiences enjoyable and safe.

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