Friday, April 1, 2011

Staying Safe When Shopping Online

From time to time on my blog, I will do reviews of websites I've been asked to look at, sort of like a survey where I share the results with people. I receive compensation for doing these reviews, but they don't tell me what I have to say, or even that I have to say nice things. All the opinions contained herein are entirely my own.

If you've been following my blog for awhile, or talked to me about couponing and finding bargains, you probably already know that I do a lot of shopping online. There are so many sales you can get by shopping online, not only on things like books and music, but on all sorts of stuff. I went online to book our rental car reservation for M's trip this weekend, and saved quite a bit of money. I buy almost all of Robert's baby snacks online, not to mention his diapers! Social bargain sites like Groupon and DealPulp are a good way to get big deals on local stores and restaurants.

The problem, of course, is how do you keep your information secure when you're shopping? Identity theft is a major problem all over the world these days, and you see it all the time on the news. I know some people who won't shop online at all because of it. I can understand the concern, but I think they're missing the point. Plenty of identity theft is decidedly low tech, from a waitress copying your info when she takes your credit card in a restaurant, to someone digging through your trash to find a credit card statement. Not shopping online isn't going to keep you safe. In fact, if you're careful, shopping online is every bit as safe as going to the store, and maybe even safer!

The first thing you need to keep in mind when shopping online is to make sure you're shopping in the right place. Be especially careful if you get a link by email. You wouldn't accept a ride from someone to take you shopping at Tarjet, and you should make sure that the links you follow are going where you expect. When you are shopping, always check the address bar on your browser to make sure you're at the site you want to be at. Just as importantly, when it comes time to check out, make sure that the page you'll be submitting your credit card on is an "HTTPS" site, rather than simply "HTTP." You can tell by looking for those letters at the front of the address, plus your browser will almost certainly have a padlock icon somewhere to indicate that the site you're on is secure. Never enter personal information on an unsecured web page!

If you are very worried about shopping online, you can get started by shopping only at the very biggest of online retailers. My favorite online retailer right now is, partially because they've had ridiculously fabulous coupons for mommies lately, but mostly because they are extremely reliable. Typically, the bigger the company is, the more reliance you can place on them when shopping online. That doesn't mean you won't find awesome deals at smaller stores, but you can easily get your feet wet at bigger stores, just to get used to online shopping. Many smaller stores also accept Paypal, where you can enter credit card information with Paypal and then have them pay the vendor without ever giving the vendor your card information. When you  shop online, use a credit card and never a debit card. Credit cards offer far more protection against fraud, and if you pay it off in full each month, you won't be dinged by extra interest charges.

Despite taking every precaution, online and off, identity theft sometimes happens. Thieves are just very determined. You can act preemptively by signing up for an identity theft protection service, if that will give you more peace of mind. These services monitor your credit for you to report on any changes that may occur, and some also offer insurance in case of identity theft, to cover any costs associated with recovering your personal information. Services such as IdentityHawk offer this protection for a monthly fee after a short free trial period. They can be valuable, especially if you've lost an especially vital piece of data like a social security card, just to make sure you know as soon as possible if anything happens. They can also advise you in case anything does happen, and guide you through the steps you need to take in order to recover your credit.

For most people, though, you should check first with your credit card to see what protection they offer. Most credit cards do not hold customers liable for any fraudulent charges made anyway. As long as you're sure of that, and you're monitoring your credit reports three times a year anyway, you probably don't need a lot of extra protection. Use your common sense and good credit habits, and be careful of your personal information online and off, and you can bargain shop with peace of mind.

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