by Daniel Bell
Modern fears about the information you share online are reaching an all-time high. You could call it paranoia. But as Thomas Pynchon wrote in his latest novel, “Paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen… you can never have too much.”
The fact is that you should be extremely careful about what you’re doing online. And one of the most vital areas here is online shopping. Whenever you enter credit card information anywhere online, you’re taking a risk.
The following is a guide to getting into online shopping safely. It’s aimed primarily at people who have little to no online shopping in the past due to their concerns or previous bad experiences. But it can also serve as an invaluable guide to anyone, even if you’re already making online purchases frequently. It’s never too late to start thinking about online shopping security!
But isn’t everyone shopping online?
This is a common misconception. Because so many of us have come to rely on the Internet for so many things, we often have a pretty skewed view of how everyone else interacts with it. We assume that pretty much everyone does exactly what we do. Many are under the impression that most of the world’s population are now using the Internet every day. But nearly 4.5 billion people don’t even have Internet access!
It’s impossible to get entirely accurate statistics when it comes to how many connected people don’t use the Internet to shop. But various sources estimate it to be in the range of about 10-15%. That’s not a negligible amount of people! That means there are millions of people who have the Internet but avoid shopping online nonetheless. See more statistics about e-commerce at http://uk.businessinsider.com.
Why do people avoid shopping online?
Many people may assume that those who avoid online shopping are just illiterate when it comes to technology. And it’s true that some fears may stem from a misunderstanding about how it works. But assuming that people simply aren’t “smart enough” to use online shopping is a little reductive and insulting, isn’t it? There are plenty of factors that come into play.
The fact that online stores are pretty much completely abstract doesn’t help matters. When you go to a regular brick-and-mortar store, there’s a stronger feeling of security in many ways. There are flesh-and-blood people right there who you can speak to face-to-face. You can touch the products, inspect them. All of that disappears when you’re online. It seems very much a case of simply buying the product and hoping it comes as you expect it to come.
Online shopping is risky in many ways
There is certainly an element of risk to it all. Credit card fraud hits people every day. And it’s hardly a secret that most of the time the credit card information was attained over the Internet. Getting your head around making secure purchases online is quite a big task.
Part of this protection process is also the responsibility of your bank. Whoever your card issuer is, you should find out as much as you can about their online shopping policies. There are many online stores out there that have functionality that ties in directly with your specific bank. When you’re making the actual purchase, your bank may be contacted via a secure transmission to make sure the purchase is valid. If you need to know more, don’t hesitate to speak to someone at your bank about online shopping. You should also ask them specifically about their online fraud protections features.
Understanding your rights
Some of this fear can stem from a fear of not being protected enough by the law when you’re online. When you go to a “real” store, you feel a lot more secure with your purchase. You get a paper receipt and you can even get the name of the specific person who served you. You know that you have rights as a consumer. If the product you’ve purchased isn’t fit for purpose, doesn’t work correctly, or even if you don’t want it after a few days, then you can take action. The law is on your side if you want to get a refund or a replacement. But when it comes to online shopping, that abstract feeling comes back again.
Good news: you are protected by the same rights when it comes to online purchases. Anyone who sells you a faulty or displeasing product over the Internet must comply with the same laws as they would in a brick-and-mortar store. And if you don’t get the help you need, you can take legal action. See http://www.brownandcrouppen.com/defective-products/ for more information.
A quick glance at the website
There’s a lot that the home page of an online shopping site can tell you. I invite you to take a quick look http://www.amazon.com. People will an account on the website will notice something in the URL bar: a green padlock. Click on the green padlock and you will gain access to information about the site and its certifications. If a store has a green padlock, it means it’s secured with an SSL Certificate. However, some web browsers do communicate the security of a server to you in a different manner. Pop-up messages alerting the user that the website is either secured or unsecured are also common.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It means that the data exchanges you make with this website will be encrypted. This is extremely important to know if you’re thinking about making online purchases. This means protection for your credit card information as well as your name and address. There are some other ways to tell that the website you’re on is protected via a quick glance. Visit https://www.symantec.com/page.jsp?id=ssl-information-center for more information. And remember: if you’re not seeing anything on the website regarding SSL, TLS or HTTPS, then don’t make purchases on it.
Getting information about the store
If you’re ever concerned about any website at all, you should locate and visit its “About” page. Again, the law dictates that an online shopping site provides their users with certain information. You may have had a hard time getting over how “abstract” an online store is. But remember that any online business needs a physical location. Even if it’s someone’s home, the government requires all businesses to have a physical point of contact. You can’t register a business without one! So any online store should have a building that serves as the point of operations.
The website needs to make this location clear. If you’ve found an address on the website, then feel free to search for this address. I don’t mean get in your car and visit the address to verify the building is there! It can be as easy as visiting Google Maps and entering the address there. If Google Maps points you towards an empty construction site, then that’s obviously a warning sign. This “About” page must also contain contact details for the organization. You should also be able to find out more about the owner of the company.
If the online store has a physical presence of some sort, then this may not be of too much concern to you. For example, if the site you’re looking at is an online branch of a popular street retailer of which you’re aware. But even then you need to some basic safety steps with the transaction.
Checking out a store’s reputation
The glory of the Internet isn’t just found in Internet shopping. It’s also found in a user’s ability to check the reputation of any given company with relative ease. If you’re not familiar with the company that is selling goods online, then you can just Google the company name along with the word “reviews”. In no time at all, you should have access to the thoughts of people who have used this website in the past.
Ever heard of the Better Business Bureau? You may have been aware that it’s been accrediting trustworthy businesses for about a century. You may not have know that it has stretched its talents into the online shopping realm. Search for a website at http://www.bbb.org/ to see if you can get more information about it.
Reading the small print
Of course, the text we’re referring to here is usually not actually small. What we call small print in the realm of online shopping usually refers to the abundance of terms and conditions of using the site. While the text isn’t usually small, it’s usually only available in a separate window to the one in which you’re making the actual purchase. You need to manually bring this information up. And once the information is up, you’re probably going to find a lot of reading material.