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SAFE SHOPPING ONLINE


Protect yourself from identity thieves


BY DOREEN FRIEL NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION


f you’re like many consumers today, you probably do some shopping online. Every year, online sales seem to increase dramatically. During the 2010 Christmas shopping season, Internet-related sales grew 15.4 percent from the same time period in 2009—reaching an astonishing $36.4 billion. But while shopping from the convenience of your keyboard can save time, money, and gas, here are some important things to consider:


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Know your retailer. It’s always safer to shop with merchants you know. If you want to buy from a website that’s new to you, do an online search for that merchant and “complaints” to check for negative chatter about the seller.


Use secure websites. When placing your order on the merchant’s website, make sure that there is an “s” at the beginning of web address: For example, the URL should begin “https://” instead of just “http://.” Also, be sure to look for a padlock icon in the upper or lower right-hand portion of your computer screen. Both of these mean that the site you are visiting uses a high level of security to protect your personal information.


Credit cards give you greater protection than cash and debit cards. If you are not charged the correct amount


for your purchase, or do not receive the merchandise you ordered, you can dispute the transaction under the terms of the Fair Credit Billing Act if you’ve used a credit card.


Choose your password carefully. Most websites require you to use a password to access your personal information and place orders. Be sure to create a password that is not easy for others to guess—and use a combination of letters, numbers, and, if possible, symbols such as “*” and “%” to make it more difficult for your information to be accessed by others.


Check the merchant’s privacy policy. This will tell you how they plan to use your information—including whether they will share it with others. You may


wish to avoid sellers that do not have a privacy policy, as you have no way of knowing what they’ll do with your data.


Always print and keep the receipt from your transaction. It contains all of the information from your order, including what you bought, the price you paid, and any order or confirmation number. This is vital if you need to follow up with the merchant or dispute your transaction.


Shopping online is easy and convenient—but by taking some simple precautions, it can also be safe. ■


Doreen Friel is a marketing communications consultant for the Insurance & Financial Services Department of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.


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