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Why Do We Take Risks When We Shop Online?

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By now most of us know how important it is to protect our personal information when we shop online, yet many of us continue to shop even when we suspect that a site might not be safe.

So, why do we ignore warning bells and go ahead with risky purchases? Part of the problem is that it is difficult for many shoppers to determine whether a specific site is safe or not. In fact, a recent survey conducted by McAfee* revealed that 40% of respondents thought it was hard to tell if a site is secure.

That is bad news for consumers and for legitimate online merchants who rely on tools such as trustmarks to indicate that their sites are safe. And although trustmarks can be extremely helpful, many could not tell the difference between various types of trustmarks.

Given the confusion, we thought it would be a good idea to review our top safe shopping best practices.

  1. Learn the difference between trustmarks—Trustmarks are icons added to websites that indicate that the site has been checked for safety by an independent third-party. However, there are several different kinds of trustmarks and it pays to know the difference among them. Here’s a rundown of the various types:
    1. Reputational—These marks claim to offer a baseline level of proof that the site follows proper business practices. An example of this type of mark would be the one issued by the Better Business Bureau.
    2. Privacy—Privacy trustmarks, issued by organizations such as TRUSTe, show that the merchant abides by a set of customer data management practices, as defined by the provider of the trustmark.
    3. Secure Socket Layer (SSL)—When this encryption technology is used to prevent hackers from stealing information, it is indicated by a padlock icon or the use of “https:” at the start of the website address. VeriSign offers this kind of trustmark.
    4. Comprehensive scanning/security—Trustmarks like McAfee SECURE™ indicate that the site has gone through rigorous security checks to ensure that your computer and data stays safe. Sites with the McAfee SECURE  trustmark must pass a daily scan in order to keep their trustmark.
  2. Make sure you are on a legitimate site—According to our survey, most consumers believe that larger, well-known sites are safer than smaller sites, but you should still check the legitimacy of a site each time you shop. Hackers can erect fake sites that mimic both large and small e-commerce companies, so it’s always smart to make sure you’ve landed on the right page by reviewing the website address or URL and making sure it’s correct.
  3. Review the company’s policies—Do some investigation before you buy. Make sure to study the company’s shipping, return and exchange policies, ensure you are comfortable with them, and understand how this will affect what your total price will be. Also review the company’s privacy policy—even if it is a legitimate e-commerce site, you should be wary of buying from a company that shares your information with others. Read through the site’s privacy policy to see what kind of information is collected and how it is used.
  4. Use a credit card instead of a debit card—If something goes wrong, credit card companies will usually reimburse you for fraudulent charges. However, if you use a debit card, the money will automatically be withdrawn from your account, and it will be much harder to recoup your losses.

Hopefully, with continued education and a good dose of common sense, everyone can learn how to heed the warning bells and become safer online shoppers.

* McAfee Consumer Online Shopping Survey with Harris Interactive, May 2009


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