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Security Fix: Eight tips for safe online shopping

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eight tips for safe online shopping

1. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card. Banks are using awards programs to push consumers toward debit cards because they can charge merchants higher fees than on credit card transactions, said Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc. But if your debit card number gets stolen, it might be more complicated to sort things out, especially if the fraud causes overdrafts on your account. If you don't feel comfortable using credit or debit cards, many sites let you pay using the Bill Me Later service.

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2. Keep track of your receipts. Some experts advise online shoppers to print out all receipts. A simpler and more "green" alternative is to simply take a screen shot of your order details, or save the page itself as an HTML file.

3. Shop from a locked-down PC. One common tip is to make sure that anti-virus software is up-to-date. If you have not yet followed that advice, you might think twice about shopping online with that computer, as it may already be infected with a keystroke-logging virus.

4. Look for the SSL sign/padlock in the browser's address bar. If you don't see this on the page where you to enter your personal and financial details, run.

5. Avoid bargain-basement shopping online. There's nothing wrong with wanting the best price, but be aware that last year we saw plenty of phantom stores pop up around the holidays. Consider using comparison-shopping sites such as PriceGrabber.com and Bizrate.

6. Double-check those shipping policies. Make sure you understand the shipping and return policies before you click that "buy" button. Look for stores that offer a guaranteed shipping date, and make sure that the items you want are actually in stock.

7. Read the fine print. CNet's Dennis O'Reilly has a good tip in his safe online shopping summary: "Just as you can find your browser sporting a new toolbar if you rush through an update of your media player or PDF reader, being in a hurry when you make a Web purchase can cause you to 'sign up' for unwanted offers."

8. Shopping online at work could be hazardous to your career. You might want to think twice about online shopping while at work. Jackie Ford at Marketwatch.com writes: "Regardless of how you're paid, you're probably an at-will employee -- which means you can be fired at any time for any reason, or even for no reason at all. By surfing when you should be working, you may be making yourself the perfect nominee for the next round of down-sizing."


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