Many people have not purchased anything over the Internet because they fear they may get ripped off, end up with fraudulent charges on their credit card, or have their identity stolen. Many people who DO purchase online have these concerns. It’s not possible to be 100 per cent safe, but there are things you can do to make your online purchasing a lot safer.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
I am looking for a Boston Bruins jersey for the playoff run and go to a website, find what I want, add it to my virtual shopping cart and check out. If this is a site I know, such as NHL.com,my risks are much lower than if it is from somenonamejerseyemporium.com
(I made that up). The main risks here are the reputation of the seller, authenticity of the goods, and the security around entering and handling my credit card. If this is a one-time purchase, the storage of the card number may be less of an issue.
Online auctions like eBay are a very popular form of online purchase and have a different set of risks. Here you are relying on the reputation of the seller and a fair and accurate representation of the goods. In this case you may have less recourse if the goods are not satisfactory.
Online subscriptions are typically recurring transactions, so in addition to the regular concerns, your credit card number is typically stored in a database and processed on a regular basis. Hackers looking for a big score on a list of credit card numbers will target these credit card databases.
Buyer beware is definitely the rule on the Internet although in cases the sellers take some risks as well. When you initiate the contact with the seller, your risk is typically less than when someone contacts you, especially when they email you an offer with links to enter your credit card or banking information. This is very common form of fraud called “phishing.” The fraudsters make you think you are dealing with one company, typically a well known and reputable company, and it turns out to be a scam.
When we are designing websites, we emphasize to our clients that the number one objective is to increase “shopper confidence.” So as a shopper these are the things you can look for to increase your confidence that the transaction you are about to make is legitimate and your information will be safe. Look for:
a physical address on the site and not just a PO Box number.
affiliations with physical stores or locations.
brand names you recognize such as Chapters versus a no-name book store.
a return policy, ideally for a refund and no restocking fees.
a phone number and contact the company to get a sense of their reputation.
an email at the domain, rather
than a hotmail account, which
has less credibility. details on shipping charges especially on international orders.
Other tips: Google the company name for any postings of bad dealings Check on your credit card policy on charge backs and fraud liability. Use a low limit credit card for online purchases. Don’t respond to SPAM. Monitor you credit report. Secure your own Internet access with a Router using a form of filtering or authentication. Don’t use one master password for all sites and accounts. If you store your passwords in a spreadsheet make sure it’s encrypted and password protected. Watch entering personal info on public sites like Facebook.
BEFORE ENTERING YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO
First, never email your credit card and that includes entering your credit card into a page that is an email form unless that page is a “secure page.” You can tell this by looking at the address of the page. Most pages have an HTTP at the start of the page. A secure page will have HTTPS at the start and have a small Lock icon on the page. It varies with the browser software you are using but may be gold coloured lock at the end of the address bar at the top of the page in Internet Explorer. Clicking on the Lock icon will give you a security report and links to more information about knowing which sites to trust.
Websites use a process called Secure Socket Layers (SSL) to encrypt the information you enter into the page so it cannot be read and then it is decrypted when it is stored after transmission. It’s important to note that each page is secured so just because one page on a site is secure not all pages may be secured. Never enter your credit card into a page that does not have SSL encryption.
At some sites, when you “check out” to purchase you are redirected to a payment processing gateway such as PayPal. When PayPal started you had to have a PayPal account to use it and I remember being skeptical about setting one up. PayPal has really improved and we set up PayPal processing for clients. This gives shoppers a higher level of confidence because the merchant never has their credit card number. It is entered into the payment gateway site. But some people do not like being redirected to enter the credit card, especially if it is not a well known payment processing gateway.
The third processing option is where you stay on the merchant site but enter the number into a page that is transmitted to the payment processing gateway. This gives is a little higher level confidence because there is no redirect and also because there are more fees and sometimes higher restrictions on getting this level of processing account.
Again, there are no guarantees that online purchases are going to be secure. But businesses have done a lot to make it a safer environment to do business. And it is just so much easier and in some cases the only way to do things. Good luck and safe shopping!
Allan Dubyts is a manager for Corectech Business Systems, a software development company in Winnipeg.