How to Protect Yourself When Ordering Online

More and more people are doing their shopping online these days. I know I purchase more than I ever have on the Internet. Unfortunately, not all of my experiences have been positive.

Based on my past experiences, here are a few things that I have learned to check before making an online purchase:

Shipping Charge: before you spend your time finding products on a particular website, find out how much they charge for shipping. I don’t know how many times I have spent an hour or so researching and adding products to my cart only to find out the shipping charges are too high for my budget.

Return Policy: be sure to read the return policy before making a purchase. The first thing I check is the number of return days and the procedure for returning the item(s).

If the merchant has a store, see what their policy is about making returns to the store (instead of paying to return the item by mail).

You will also want to check to see if they offer free shipping on returns and if they refund the shipping charge you paid to get the item.

Warranty: if you are buying electronics or a pricey item, be sure the website is an “authorized” dealer for that particular product/manufacturer.

Be sure to read over the warranty terms and look for exclusions and limitations. Also, review the procedure for sending the item in to be repaired – some places will actually charge you shipping or repair charges.

Contact Information: check to see if the website has a customer service number or email address where you can contact them with any issues.

If you aren’t familiar with the company, you should try to call the number before ordering, just to see if it is a legitimate number and someone answers.

Security & Privacy: before entering your credit card or personal information, it is important to do 2 things:

  • check the website’s terms of use and privacy policy to see how your information will be used
  • be sure the site is using a secure server and you see the “https” in the address bar. If you aren’t sure what https is, you can find more information on https at wikipedia.org

Do a Google Search and/or Check with the BBB: if you are not familiar with the company or merchant, you can always do a Google search to find out if they have a good reputation. You can also check the BBB website to see if there have been any complaints filed against them.

Search for Coupons: I have a rule that I will not make a purchase online without a coupon. Almost every company offers some sort of coupon for a percent off or at least free shipping. If you don’t have a coupon, they are easy to find by doing a Google search.

Resources:
The Federal Trade Commission has two articles that I found very informative:

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