Garber on Business: Selling online? Help your potential customers shop online safely
The Internet can be an exciting tool that puts vast information at your fingertips. With a click of a mouse, it lets you buy an airline ticket, book a hotel, send flowers to a friend, or purchase your favourite stock.
Good deals, convenience and choices abound on the Internet. But before you use all the Internet has to offer, be cyber-smart and make your online experience safe. When shopping online, there are several things you can do to add to your shopping safety. Being aware of technology scams, checking website policies and understanding your credit card rights will go a long way toward providing privacy and identity protection.
Shopping online offers lots of benefits that you won't find shopping in a store or by mail. For example, the Internet is always open - seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And, bargains can be numerous online. Shopping on the Internet also can be as safe as shopping in a store or by mail. Keep in mind the following tips to help ensure that your online shopping experience is a safe one:
Some websites provide cost comparisons, assisting you in finding the lowest price for your request. Be aware, however, that there have been reports of a few sites corrupting the comparisons to return results that sell product -- not to aid the hapless consumer.
Once you have decided where you want to make your purchase, go through that website and look for policies defining warranties, refunds, returns, legal statements and privacy policies.
Warranties -- where provided -- will tell you what is covered and for what time period. This online section will also tell you whom to contact if you need a replacement, a refund or a repair. Before buying a high-ticket item, spend some time browsing bulletin boards and blogs for objective feedback on how well guarantees and warranties work for that particular company or product. For example -- although I don't generally promote buying extended warranties -- in the case of new iPod purchases, the failure rate of the batteries is so high, that it really pays off to buy the 3-year package. In fact, reading the fine print reveals that Apple, the manufacturer, allows ONLY ONE WARRANTY INQUIRY, compared to unlimited calls with the $99 add-on warranty.
The privacy statement may surprise you. Read it carefully. Many companies feel free to sell your personal information or add you to multiple email lists. By using their website, you give them permission to hand out your email address and possibly your physical address and phone number.
In the U.S., the Internet is also subject to the Federal Mail/Telephone Order Merchandise Rule which requires companies to ship your order within 30 days or notify you of the delay.
This is the software you use to navigate the Internet. Your browser should comply with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or SET Secure Electronic Transaction. These standards encrypt or scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transaction. Most computers come with a browser already installed. You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet.
Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you're not familiar with a merchant, ask for a paper catalogue or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Also, determine the company's refund and return policies before you place your order.
Be creative when you establish a password, and never give it to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date, or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating them. In the case of unauthorized use of a consumer's credit or charge card, consumers are generally held liable only for the first $50 in charges. Some cards may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits.
Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. Also, you should know that the federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers orders made via the Internet. This means that unless stated otherwise, merchandise must be delivered within 30 days, and if there are delays, the company must notify you.
Some companies let you pay bills and check your account status online. Before you sign up for any service, evaluate how the company is securing your financial and personal information. Many companies explain their security procedures on their Web site. If you don't see a security description, call or email the company and ask.
Technology now provides companies with the ability to collect information about you and potentially give that information to others. While the Internet can serve as a tremendous resource for information, products and services, you should be sure to safeguard your privacy online by following these tips.
Don't disclose personal information--such as your address, telephone number, Social Security number or email address--unless you know who's collecting the information, why they're collecting it and how they'll use it. If you have children, teach them to check with you before giving out personal or family information online.