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Take Care To Keep Web Sales Secure
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Internet is revolutionizing commerce in much the same way mail-order catalogs did a century ago, as last year 17 million shoppers spent more than $20 billion online.
Jan Lukens, personal finance specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, urged consumers to not overlook security in their quest for greater convenience and better prices.
"One area of concern in online shopping is privacy and knowing what monitoring is done of your shopping activity," Lukens said. "Someone doing a lot of shopping online may want to protect themselves from others knowing too much about their purchases."
One way companies track users is through cookies, small files inserted in the users computer hard drive that allow the website owner to monitor where the user goes on the site. Depending on the browser, there usually is a preference option under either the edit or view menu that offers the option to accept all cookies, accept none or ask the user before accepting any.
"It drastically slows down the shopping if you must approve every cookie, and most people don't want to be bothered by that," Lukens said. "It is an eye-opener to see how closely companies watch what you're doing."
The next security issue is actually making the purchase. Lukens suggested using a credit card whenever possible as this is the best and easiest way to purchase online. Credit card companies have built-in consumer protections, limits on liability and means to dispute charges. Lukens also suggested setting one credit card aside for online use only.
"If you do run into theft or problems with online transactions, you don't have to hamper your use of any other cards while you resolve the situation," Lukens said.
Confirm a site's reputation through such organizations as the Better Business Bureau Online or the National Association of Attorneys General. If a site claims to be a product's authorized dealer, check the manufacturer's website for confirmation.
Read the legal fine print to learn terms, warranties and disclaimers.
"You can often find the legal section under key word links such as 'legal terms,' 'disclaimers' or 'c2000'," Lukens said. "Some sites take you through a series of screens where you click the appropriate button to agree to the various terms the website requires. While there is some dispute as to how binding these types of agreements are, don't click before you've read."
As with any distance transaction, keep the paper trail. Print the web pages that indicate the seller's name and contact information. Print the description of the item purchased and any confirmation screens that appear, and keep copies of any e-mail correspondence.
"Keep anything that documents exactly what transaction was made and what merchandise or services you are supposed to get," Lukens said.