Online shopping enables consumers to buy almost anything from the convenience of their own homes. However, comfortable surroundings can lull online shoppers into a false sense of security. You would not leave your wallet unattended in a busy shopping mall or enter a sketchy-looking shop, yet you may be taking similar risks when shopping online.
One of the biggest risks is shopping on fraudulent sites or making purchases from crooked marketplace sellers who have no intention of shipping the goods you have paid for. Following are three suggestions for protecting yourself:
- Use feedback features – when shopping in online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, pay close attention to ratings and comments provided by previous customers about individual sellers. Bear in mind, however, that some online review platforms allow sellers to request the removal of negative reviews. And while reputable marketplaces and review sites do their best to block fake reviews, it is possible for sellers to boost their profile by paying “customers” to post five-star ratings and raves.
- Perform basic research – before making a purchase from an unfamiliar retail site, enter the site’s name into a major search engine. Because negative information may not appear at the top of search results, look beyond the first or second page. In some extreme circumstances, disgruntled customers set up their own sites to air grievances about an online retailer, or you may find news of legal action. It also is important to be wary if you find almost no information about a retailer. Some scam artists frequently change the names and addresses of their sites to stay one step ahead of the law.
- Always pay with a credit card – credit card companies generally allow their customers to dispute fraudulent charges and get their money back if they do not receive the goods they purchased. Beware of online sellers who ask you to pay by check, ACH or wire to avoid credit card processing fees. Online marketplace scammers sometimes ask customers to skip the site’s payment system and pay them directly. This is dangerous because it places a transaction beyond the reach of the marketplace’s fraud detection and prevention systems.
Most online merchants deliver on their customer commitments. However, a small percentage take advantage of the web’s anonymity to commit fraud. Be sure to check out any site or seller you intend to do business with and, just as important, listen to your gut. If something makes you uneasy, do not proceed with the transaction.