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The Internet is an incredible resource for many purposes, research, entertainment, shopping. And it is for the most part safe. When it comes to shopping, however, just like in the regular "brick and mortar" shopping world, there are con artists and frauds who use the internet to perpetrate their crimes.
Here are some safe e-shopping tips:
1) Unsolicited e-mail should always be treated with suspicion. Never respond to bulk e-mail, even to ask to be unsubscribed (when you unsubscribe, that just tells them that they have reached a valid e-mail address).
2) The safest way to purchase things on-line is with a credit card because you can dispute the charge if you find you are the victim of a crime or fraud. If your credit card number is stolen and used by someone else, you are only liable for the first $50 in charges (provided you let the card issuer know right away). Many banks will even cover the $50. ATM / bank debit cards are safe ONLY if your card limits your liability to $50. Even then, a thief can empty your bank account quickly, which is a major inconvenience even if you ARE covered.
3) Print out hard copies of all on-line transactions on your printer (a respectable e-commerce site will tell you to do that), or save a digital copy of a purchase confirmation on your computer's hard drive. These confirmations of purchases are concrete evidence of a transaction when a dispute arises.
4) Be careful of e-stores that ask for a lot of personal information. An on-line transaction with a credit card shouldn't require giving a merchant more information than is needed to verify your card and ship you the product. Home Depot or Office Depot (for example) don't ask you ANY questions when you use a credit card, so why should an on-line merchant? If they do, they may be collecting information about you that they will be selling to someone else.
5) If you use on-line auctions, use the protections that they have put in place for you. Check the posted comments about both the sellers and buyers. Use escrow services (with caution) if you are buying or selling big ticket items.
6) The old adage, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is" really applies on the Internet. Be careful of "great deals" and "special offers." Watch out for cheap name-brand software - there are lots of copies of old (and no longer supported) versions of well-known products out there. Make sure that you always know exactly what you are getting, no matter what you purchase.
7) Watch out for free advice. Whether it's a stock tip from a chat room or unsolicited e-mail, avoid advice from strangers. Why would they want to give you free advice? There's usually a motive involved, and that motive is simple: they want to make money at your expense.
Here are some helpful links:
Internet Scam Busters
Better Business Bureau