Have you ever felt a little bit confounded about just how to make a purchase over the Internet — and just who should see your personal information?
The world of online shopping is an ever-evolving one, and it can get confusing sometimes. For instance, if you make online purchases from the likes of eBay, Walgreens, iTunes or Dell, you’ll have the option of opening a PayPal account and making your payment through PayPal. Is that the route you should take?
Here’s another scenario: If you shop on, say, Amazon.com, you can buy from third-party sellers who have nothing to do with Amazon.com. This can be fabulous for you as a consumer, but it also can create the need for you to be hyper-alert about protecting your information.
The following tips can help you navigate the world of online shopping and enjoy minimal hassles at the same time.
1. Understand how PayPal works. When you open a PayPal account, you authorize PayPal to take money out of your bank account or charge online purchases to your credit card. This can be a nice service if you feel uneasy about sharing your credit-card information with a wide variety of online merchants. Merchants never see your personal information; they just receive money from PayPal, an eBay company.
2. Decide how you want to pay. PayPal’s default maneuver is to withdraw money straight from your bank account rather than charge purchases to your credit card. If you want to pay with your credit card, you must remember to adjust the payment setting by clicking the “More Funding Options” link before you pay.
3. It’s better to use your credit card. That way you’ll be able to dispute charges and potentially get them reversed if anything goes awry. Such disputes will be much harder to resolve if the money has already been taken out of your account.
4. Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mails. Did you ever get an e-mail message that appears to be from PayPal or another legitimate-looking outfit, asking you to click on a Web link and update your account information? Never, ever do that! This is one of the biggest online scams around. (Don’t respond to unsolicited phone calls of this nature, either.)
5. Take the initiative. If you’re concerned that PayPal or another institution might really need to reach you, go ahead and contact them directly – but not via the e-mail message you received. Since PayPal’s toll-free number can be hard to find, here it is: 1-800-854-1366. Its non-toll-free customer-service number is (402) 935-2050.
6. Type in Web site addresses yourself. By doing this instead of simply clicking on a link that gets sent to you, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of reaching a legitimate site.
7. Look for signs of security. When you reach the point of payment or of sharing your personal information, the Web site should be secure. The address of a secure site contains an “s” after the “http:”, like so: “https:”. Internet browsers also display an icon such as a gold padlock to verify that the site is secure.
8. Don’t pay outside the system. Fraudulent sellers will ask you to ignore the regular online-shopping-cart method of payment and wire them money instead. Or, they may want you to place money in what will turn out to be a phony escrow account. Never deviate from the regular payment process in this way.
9. Check the seller’s reputation. Whether you’re shopping on eBay, Amazon.com or another site that connects you with independent sellers, opt for a seller who has sold at least 10 items and who has a high satisfaction rating. Also, take a minute to read past customers’ feedback about the seller.
10. Know where to complain. If you feel you have been a victim of fraudulent activity or have received a fraudulent solicitation, report the matter to the retailer or company that’s been “spoofed,” as well as to the Anti-Phishing Working Group and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
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