|While online-shopping can provide unprecedented convenience and cost-savings, it is a relatively new
phenomenon that could feel risky. Uncertainties regarding security, privacy, and safety cause reluctance in many would-be shoppers.
How can I be sure that my credit card number and personal information won't be intercepted enroute to the merchant?
What happens to that data when it does reach the merchant safely?
What if I have trouble with my order or need to return merchandise?
The Shopping Guide created this page to help explain how online shopping can be safe and secure. We will try to answer
some of those questions and provide references to more complete information on
security, privacy, and merchandise returns.
Security in online transactions depends on the following elements:
data encryption, the merchant must protect your data
after it has been safely received, and federal and independent protection against credit card fraud.
Data Encryption refers to the encoding of information you send over the internet. When data is properly encrypted,
only the site you are sending to (the merchant) can properly decode and read your information. If an unauthorized party were to intercept the data enroute, it would be impossible for them to read it.
The industry standard for sending secure data is called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). SSL guards against eavesdropping, assures against tampering during transmission, and verifies that the party receiving the data is authentic.
Ensuring your data is being transferred securely using SSL:
- Does your browser support SSL? SSL works with Netscape Navigator and Communicator (version 2.0 and above), Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 3.0 and above), and AOL (AOL 3.0 and above). If you are using an older version of these browsers, you should upgrade.
If you use a different browser, check your documentation or with the vendor.
Verisign, a leader internet security products, also provides a free browser security check to ensure your browser contains the strongest security.
- Check the site's security. All of the merchants on The Shopping Guide support secure transactions. Check each site's customer support or help sections for further details.
- When you are placing an order, you can confirm the security status by
looking at the URL in the browser window. If SSL is in effect, it will begin with "https:", rather than the familiar "http:". In addition, the broken key symbol in the lower left corner of Netscape 3.0 and earlier becomes solid in secure mode.
In Netscape 4.0 and above, the padlock in the lower left corner becomes closed with a yellow background. And in IE, a closed padlock appears in secure mode.
Protection of data by merchants Most reputable merchants will move your data off of their internet server after receiving it so that it will not be accessible in the case of security breaches (hackers).
Check each merchant's customer support or help section for specific policies.
Policies on credit card fraud Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your bank cannot hold you liable for more than $50 in fraudulent charges. In addition to this protection,
several merchants featured on The Shopping Guide provide further guarantees in case your bank would hold you responsible for the $50. These merchants include:
Thanks to SSL technology and measures taken by merchants to ensure data protection and prevent fraud, using your credit card to make purchases over the net is no more dangerous, and in many cases safer, than giving your card to cashiers and waiters in the real world.
For further information, check out sites by Netscape and the FTC, which have useful information regarding online shopping safety.
Some of their recommendations are:
- Use the latest version of your browser.
- Make sure the site uses SSL.
- Shop with familiar companies.
- Look for easy-to-find security/privacy information.
- Pay by credit card.
- Keep a record of your transactions.
- Keep passwords and ids private.
If you find that you are still uncomfortable sending your credit card and personal information over the web, most merchants
are glad to take take your order over the phone or by fax. Look at the listings on The Shopping Guide pages to determine which merchants
have toll-free phone ordering and faxes available.
Reputable merchants will not share your name, address, and other information with others if you do not wish. Please refer to each site's customer support or help
sections for policies regarding privacy of the personal information you send.
Returns and Exchanges
The Shopping Guide provides a brief capsule of each merchant's return policy. In most cases, the customer has up to 30 days to return merchandise, but there are notable differences among various vendors' policies.
For example, most retailers will issue a refund, but some might only exchange for store credit or other merchandise, some only accept unopened or damaged items for return, etc. Please refer to each site's customer support pages for full details on the policies.