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Safe Internet Shopping

That certainly seems to be the question on everyone’s minds these days, and it should be. The Internet has opened up the world of products and services to all of us in ways we could not have imagined even 5 years ago. Today shopping on the Internet is commonplace. We shop online for convenience, because we hate the crowds at the mall and the rude sales people, gas prices are so high, there are no close shopping centers to where we live or simply we are unable to get out to do any shopping.
The following contains a few things that might make you feel safer about shopping on the internet, what to look for when shopping and who to go to when you feel you have been wronged. You may also find this information under “Is Internet Shopping Safe” at
How do you tell if the Internet connections are secure?
"Identity Theft" sometimes occurs when someone gets your credit card, bank account or social security number and buys goods or gets credit cards or loans in your name. Carefully guard personal information that might allow a thief to impersonate you or use your credit.

Industry has developed technology that can scramble sensitive information, such as your credit card number, so that only the merchant you are dealing with and your credit card issuer can read it. There are several ways to determine if you have that protection when you are sending payment information on the web.
· Look for the picture of the unbroken key or closed lock in your browser window. Either one indicates that the security is operative. A broken key or any open lock indicates it is not.
· Look to see if the web address on the page that asks for your credit card information begins with "https:" instead of "http." Https indicates a security in operation page.
· Some web sites use the words "Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)" or a pop up box that says you are entering a secure area.
These security protections do not work in e-mail. So, make sure you send personal and payment information in a secure web transaction. Would you rather give your credit card information over the phone?
Many web merchants allow you to order online and give your credit card information over the phone. If you do this, make a note of the phone number, company, the date and time of your call, and the name of the person who recorded your credit card number.

Different passwords?
Passwords are required at various stages of computer use and web shopping to help assure that someone is not misusing your computer or personal information. If you use a password to log on to your network or computer, use a different password for orders. Some web sites may require you to create a password for future orders. You may want to create a special password for particularly sensitive sites, such as your home banking site.
Choose your password.
The best passwords are not your address, birth date, phone number, recognizable words, or even your pet's name (which might be guessed by someone who has other information about you.). Each website is different and may ask for a certain minimum number of letters, numbers and punctuation marks. An easy way to create a memorable password is to take the first letter of each word in an expression or song lyric, and add some numbers and punctuation marks. For example, "tmottobg!5" is derived from a line in "Take Me Out To The Old Ball Game."
Recording your password
Don't write down any password near your computer where someone could see it or carry it in your purse or billfold. If you do record it somewhere, reverse the order of the characters or transpose some letters or numbers. That way, someone finding it won't have discovered your true password.
Who wants to know your password or other identifying information?
Be very careful about responding to an e-mail, phone call, fax, or letter from anyone who asks for your password(s), social security number, birth date, bank account, credit card number, mother's maiden name, or other personal information. Sellers and financial institutions do not ask you for such information unless you are entering into a transaction with them.

Identity thieves make up emails that look remarkably like real websites. If you receive an inquiry for personal information, do not reply directly. To verify that the person contacting you really does work for the seller, call and request to speak to that person directly You should only have to provide your password to get to your online account, and you should not give your credit card number except when you are actually placing an order. And you should only give your password and credit card number in a secure connection on a web site, not in ordinary e-mail.


Who is watching your online shopping activity?
Web sellers are not required by law to maintain the privacy of people who shop and/or order from their sites. This means that sellers may collect names, addresses and information on which website pages you visit, which products you buy, when you buy them, and where you ship them. Then, the seller may share the information with other companies or sell it to them. As a result, you might get more direct-mail advertising, spam, or calls from telemarketers.

If a site does not have a privacy policy posted, DO NOT do business with that site. If it does have a privacy policy, there will probably be a link to it on home page. The privacy policy may have its own link or be included under other titles such as "terms and conditions" or "Legal Terms."

A seller's privacy policy should indicate:
· What information the seller is gathering about you, if any
· How the seller will use this information; and
· Whether and how you can "opt out"(option out) of these practices
To view a simple Privacy Policy go and scroll to the bottom of the page.
Federal law now requires financial institutions to disclose what kind of information they collect from you and to give you an opportunity to prevent or "opt out" from disclosing it to others. If you wish to prevent such disclosure, you need to thoroughly read the privacy notices you receive and comply with the “opt out” instructions.
Is the web site monitored by an independent organization?
Although it may seem reassuring to find on a seller's web site a logo, icon, or seal of an independent organization that monitors privacy policies and practices, you should also check the seller's privacy policy for yourself. These independent organizations may not require the seller to adopt specific privacy practices. Instead, they might only require the seller to comply with whatever practices the seller has chosen to make part of its privacy policy. Also, these organizations are not necessarily financially liable if the seller breaches the terms of its privacy policy. If you see a certification or a log of such an organization and want more information, you may be able to get it by going to its website.
How can you avoid "cookies," “adware” and “spyware”?
Some web sites are programmed to insert a small file—commonly called a "cookie"-- onto the hard drive of your computer. Some cookies serve to identify you to the website and may be required to use the site. Some function to save you the trouble of re-typing various information every time you visit. Others function to keep track of what sites you visit and what things you look for on the web and may even be able to obtain your e-mail address from your visit. Marketers are interested in such information and may use it to tailor ads to send to you. Hence the name "adware" is sometimes used to describe these programs.

Some programs added on to your computer when you download free programs or visit certain websites are less than harmless. Some are inserted on your computer without your permission; these are often called "spyware." These programs may not only keep track of what you do on the net, they may even be used to keep track of what you type on your keyboard, including your personal information.
How to avoid or limit “spyware”:
· You can change the preferences in your web browser to prevent or limit the use of cookies. You will find information in the help documentation for your browser or by putting "disable cookies" in your search engine.
· You can also buy software programs for your browser that will help you control attempts by web sites to deposit cookies, adware or spyware. Most Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) now offer at least some protection against these programs; contact them for more information and their recommendations for additional protection.
Do you want to visit a site without revealing your identity?
There are many programs online that you can buy or use for free to hide your identity while visiting websites. A popular program is the “Anonymizer”. The free “Anonymizer” service includes a slight delay in accessing pages; for a fee, you can access these pages with no delay.
Are you sure you want that confirming e-mail?
A number of commercial web sites will send you a confirmation e-mail message immediately after they receive your e-mail order. You may not want to order from those web sites if you are concerned that your employer or someone sharing your computer might see the message and the items ordered. If you're not sure of a site's confirmation policy, you could contact the site about it or order a non-controversial item first to see how the site's procedure works. If you are given the option not to receive a confirmation e-mail, you usually can print the last screen that appears in your transaction to have a record.

Paying by credit card.
If you pay by using a credit card, you may be asked to choose whether to have the seller retain it on file for future orders. You might prefer not to have the credit card number kept on file, but instead to provide the card number again each time. The website may also allow you to choose to complete all of your order information on the web and telephone in your credit card number.

Why is paying by credit card safer than paying by check, cash, debit card, money order, cashier's check, certified check, teller's check, or cash on delivery (C.O.D.)?
If you have an unauthorized charge on your credit card, under federal law your liability is limited to . Moreover, some web site operators and credit card issuers (including all VISA and MasterCard issuers) promise that under certain circumstances they will even pay this amount for you.
Can paying by credit card help in a dispute?
Federal law provides several rights for consumers who dispute charges for goods or services under two rules.

The "billing error" rule applies if you have authorized the merchant to charge your account (either a credit card account or the merchant's revolving charge account) and
· there is a mistake in the bill that you receive or
· the goods or services were not delivered or were late, or
· they did not comply with the contract and you did not accept them. (This rule does not apply if you are disputing the quality of goods or services that you have accepted. You may, however, have rights under another rule.)
If you believe that one of those things happened, you should give written notice of the dispute within 60 days after the creditor sent the bill or statement. You must use the address identified on the creditor's bill for "billing inquiries." The creditor must acknowledge your inquiry within 30 days and has up to 90 days to investigate and either correct the bill or explain why the creditor believes it is correct. In the meantime, the creditor may not attempt to collect the claimed debt.

Under the second rule, ("claims and defenses"), you may dispute the seller's charges if the goods do not arrive or, even if you accepted them, you have a good legal claim against the seller because the goods do not comply with the contract or the seller does not honor its return policy. There are several limitations to keep in mind that do not apply under other rules:
1. You may only dispute charges you have not yet paid and
2. You must have made a good faith attempt to resolve the dispute with the seller.
There are two additional requirements that apply under the "claims and defenses" rule when ordinary credit cards are used. The sale must be for more than and it took place either in your state or within 100 miles of your home address. (In some states, telephone and web transactions may be considered as taking place where you are.) These dollar and distance limitations do not apply if the seller issued the credit card, was in a special business relationship with the issuer, or made an offer in your credit card issuer's mail to you.
What are other reasons to pay by credit card?
You may save money by using a credit card if you pay it off in full when the bill arrives. If you do this instead of paying the seller immediately, you will have the money in your bank account, earning interest, until your credit card bill for those payments comes due. Remember that if you pay only the required minimum amount and leave the balance unpaid, you will have to pay interest (which will be called "finance charge" on your bill). And if you keep paying only the minimum amount each month, you will be paying a lot of interest over many years.

Some credit card issuers grant you extended warranties or other advantages for purchases made with the card.

You have greater legal protection against your seller if the goods are defective and, in some cases, if your credit card number is used without your authorization. However, both MasterCard and VISA now promise $zero liability for some unauthorized use of debit cards on the Internet.
Identity Theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number to commit fraud. The most common way in which thieves obtain such information is by theft of your purse or wallet. Identity thieves also try to trick you into giving them that information by using highly sophisticated emails, which appear to come from banks, insurance companies, Internet service providers, auction sites, and other kinds of websites. These emails, which may even look like real emails of the company or its actual website, ask for your personal information in order to "verify" accounts or "clear up" errors that have occurred.

Legitimate businesses do not ask for social security numbers or bank account numbers on the Internet. Do not respond to such emails and do not click on any links they contain. If you wish to check with the company, type the address of the website into your own computer or telephone your question.

Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account or to get a loan in your name. When they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. The law gives you specific rights when you believe you are the victim of identity theft, including the right to have nationwide credit reporting agencies place a fraud alert notice in your file, the right to receive two free file disclosures per year, and the right to obtain documents relating to the fraudulent transactions. You can also block credit reporting and collection activity for fraudulent transactions that result from Identity Theft.

If you believe someone has used your personal identifying information to obtain credit in your name, you should (a) file a police report about the events, (b) contact the creditor to request more information and copies of documents about the fraudulent transaction, enclosing a copy of the police report, and (c) send the national Consumer Reporting Agencies a copy of the police report and request that they block all reporting about the transaction. The creditor and the national Consumer Reporting Agencies have a very limited time to respond to your requests (generally 15 days after you send them a police report of identity theft) and may ask for only limited supporting documents before blocking the item. For example, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath (an "affidavit") explaining what happened.

For further information on identity theft problems and victim assistance, see This Federal Trade Commission website contains important information about identify theft and provides guidance on what to do if you suspect you have been an identity theft victim.

Be careful not to give away personal information! Many thieves commit fraud by email.
· Never provide personal or financial information to unsolicited email or pop-up requests no matter how "legitimate" they look.
· Type web addresses into your web browser instead of clicking on links in emails.
· Change your passwords every 60 to 90 days.
· Get anti-virus and anti-spam filtering software and keep it up to date by using its automatic update feature (if your service provider or employer does not provide it for you).
· Keep track of your accounts. Consider getting credit reports at least on an annual basis to make sure someone is not using your identity.
How can you protect against unauthorized use of your credit card account number?
Carefully and promptly check your credit card statements when they arrive. If you identify any irregularities, you should immediately bring these to the attention of the issuer of the credit card by telephone and in writing.
Do you need a separate credit card?
Consider getting a credit card to use just for online purchases. It will be easier for you to review your records. Also, you'll still be able to use your other credit cards if the security of your online card is in doubt.

Some credit card issuers offer "virtual" credit cards for online transactions. You go to the issuer's website and follow the instructions for obtaining the number you may use in your next transaction. Even though the virtual number you give to the merchant is not the same as the one on your credit card, the charge will be authorized, and it will appear on your regular credit card bill. So, if there is a breach of security by one merchant, the person who obtains the number will not be able to use it to charge things to your account.
Check the site for a customer service page, "contact us" link, e-mail address, or phone number to get your complaint addressed or questions answered. If you have a complaint, ask for what you think is fair - even if it's more than the legal terms stated. A merchant isn't forbidden from doing more than required to make the customer happy. If you still are not satisfied with the answers or action taken, contact the Better Business Bureau at (or telephone your local BBB office). or the Office of the State Attorney General in your state or the state where the seller is located. You can find all the state attorney general addresses on the website of the National Association of Attorneys General, You may also fill out The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Complaint Form, which you will find at If your complaint is about a merchant located in another country, go to

The previous was just some of the information taken from is an informational website created by the American Bar Association(copyright ABA) and is a project of the ABA Section of Business Law
Committee on Cyberspace Law Subcommittee on Electronic CommerceConsumer Protection Working Group
Please research their websites: They are amazing sources of information created by the best minds in American Law today.
You can also find more information on shopping safe on the internet at WWW.ALLTHATSHOPPING.COM

About the Author: Conn Hutzell Conn has written several short stories and articles, is a self taught Internet and computer geek, owner of Internet Mall and has been designing sites since 1997.

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