Protecting Yourself When
With a few key strokes and
the click of a mouse you can shop at home from your computer. Sounds great,
right? No traffic. No parking problems. No lines or crowds. No hassles
with the weather.
Online shopping can give new
meaning to convenience and choice. But before you visit your favorite
boutique on the Net, take care to make your cyber shopping experience
- Think security, starting
with your connection--the way your computer connects through telephone
wires to contact the Internet--and your browser--the software that acts
like a telephone to receive information on the Internet.
Unsecured information sent
over the Internet can be intercepted. That's why you should consider a
secure browser, which will encrypt or scramble purchase information. Use
a secure browser that complies with industry standards, such as Secure
Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP). These
often are included with Internet connection services. The credit and charge
card industry is working on an enhanced level and the charge card industry
is working on an enhanced level of security using Secured Electronic Transactions
(SET). SET protocol provides a highly encrypted communication between
card issuers, merchants and card members.
If you don't have encryption
software to assure the security of your transaction, consider calling
the company's 800 number, faxing your order, or paying by check or money
- Shop with companies you
know. If you'd like to try a new merchant, ask for a paper catalog or
brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Determine
the company's refund and return policies before you place an order.
- Never give out your Internet
Be original when creating your
password(s). Consider using a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols,
or use a phrase to remember it. For example: UR2G$48*--"You are to
give money for eight stars."
Avoid using established numbers
for your password, such as your house number, birth date or a portion
of your telephone or Social Security numbers. It's a good idea to use
different passwords to access specific areas on the Internet, such as
the World Wide Web.
- Be cautious if you're asked
to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number,
to conduct a transaction. It's rarely necessary and should raise a red
flag. The Internet provides a valuable information service for consumers.
But some con artists who have used telemarketing, infomercials, newspapers,
magazines, and the mail to attract consumers are turning to the Internet
and online service to promote their scams.
- Pay close attention to the
information you're entering when you place an order. For example, an
additional keystroke could get you 10 shirts when you wanted only one.
Check to make sure the shipping charge is acceptable to you and all
charges are calculated correctly.
- Make a note of the company's
shipping time. If you need the merchandise earlier, ask if your order
can be "expressed" for an additional fee.
The same laws that protect
you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace:
Under the law, a company should ship your order within the time stated
in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order
within 30 days after receiving it, or give you an "option notice."
This notice gives you the choice of agreeing to the delay or canceling
your order and receiving a prompt refund.
There is one exception to the
30-day rule. If a company doesn't promise a shipping time, and you are
applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has 50 days
after receiving your order to ship.
- Should you decide to pay
by credit or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the
Fair Credit Billing Act. Some cards may provide additional warranty
or purchase protection benefits. If you're not comfortable entering
your credit or charge card account number, call it into the company's
800 number, or fax it.
- Print out a copy of your
order and confirmation number for your records.
The Fair Credit Billing
Whether you're buying online,
by phone, mail, or in person at a store, using your credit or charge card
to pay offers some protections.
If you find a billing error
on your monthly credit or charge card statement, you may dispute the charge
and withhold payment in that amount while the error is in dispute. The
error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you didn't
accept, or for something that wasn't delivered as agreed.
To dispute a charge:
- Write to the creditor at
the special address indicated on the monthly statement for "billing
inquiries." Include your name, address, and credit or charge card
number, and describe the billing error.
- Send your letter as soon
as possible. It must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first
bill containing the error was mailed to you.
The creditor must acknowledge
your complaint in writing within 30 days of receiving it, unless the problem
has already been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within
two complete billing cycles--but not more than 90 days--after receiving
If your credit or charge card
is used without your authorization, you can be held liable for up to $50
per account. If you report the loss of your card before it is used,
you are not liable for any unauthorized charges.
* Courtesy of The U.S. Office
of Consumer Affairs