Warning signs you should watch out for when shopping online
It is hard to overstate the popularity of online shopping. There is almost no category of product that can't be purchased online. From wedding dresses, to pets and potato chips, consumers are heading online to purchase things that only a few years ago would have been considered strange to buy online. With so many online stores to choose from, it can be hard to tell which are legitimate and which could leave you vulnerable to scam or identity theft.
One of the easiest ways to tell if a website is secure is by looking for a Trust Seal.
“Typically, these seals are associated with secure sockets layer, or SSL for short,” states John Rampton, a Forbes contributor. “This simply means that your site has been verified and that there is a secure transmission for customers to safely enter their credit card information.”
When you are shopping online, you may have run into one of the seals and not even realized it. If you searched for a store through Google, for example, you probably have seen the small logo with a checkmark that states “Google Trusted Stores,” which is the search engine's own Trust Seal. There are also several other companies that examine stores and give out trust seals.
“While trust seals are an important feature for [an] e-commerce website, which seals are the most reliable?” asks Rampton. “In a survey conducted by the research group the Baymard Institute, the most trusted badge was Norton, with 36 percent of the votes. This was followed by McAfee (23 percent), TRUSTe (13.2 percent) and BBB Accredited (13.2 percent).”
The other ways that you can determine an online store's trustworthiness are much less clear-cut than Trust Seals. Online reviews, for example, are one of the most important ways that consumers make decisions about a business's reputation. If an online store has many positive reviews, you will likely feel safer giving it your credit card information. It is entirely possible for a good online store to not have many reviews, however, and positive reviews can be faked, so it is not a foolproof method.
It is also important to not ignore your gut feeling when shopping online. If you find a product for significantly less than every other store selling it, then that is a definite red flag. Another tactic to keep an eye out for is if a store claims to have the product you are looking for during an initial search, but then tries to redirect you to other similar products because they do not actually have what you need.
Furthermore, if a website doesn't seem professionally designed, is extremely outdated, or very difficult to navigate, you may want to find another.
“Would you seriously give your credit card information to [a] website that looks like it belongs in 1995?” asks Rampton. “Common sense would say absolutely not.”
You should also look for contact information that would allow you to speak with an employee if you have questions or problems with your order. If there is no way to contact customer service, that is a big red flag.
Once you decide to make a purchase, there are further things to keep in mind.
“Don't send your credit card details via email, post them on social media (even in a private message), or enter them on an unsecured website,” states Lexy Savvides from Cnet.com. “Don't give away more information than you need. Retailers generally don't need to know details like your date of birth or social security number, so why disclose it if you don't have to?”
If you keep this information in mind and always choose the path of caution, you should be able to shop online without incident.
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