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Oline Ordering: Risky Business? Shopping Safely Online

Article reprented from Internet Shopper, by permission.
By Phyllis L. Eliasberg

How safe is it to shop online, really?

Many people only go window shopping on the Net, fearful that someone will grab their credit card number from cyberspace and have a field day at Tiffany's. The reality is that shopping online is probably less risky than using your card at a local merchant. And shopping the virtual marketplace has distinct advantages: you don't have to go out in bad weather, there's no problem parking, and there are no pushy salespeople. But there is still a concern about security and who you are dealing with behind the screen.

Most consumer fears are unfounded. Still, taking a few precautions will help you avoid cyberfraud. Shopping at stores that are well known, like L.L.Bean, is trouble-free. If you have any questions about the legitimacy of the company you want to do business with, ask for a printed brochure or catalog. Don't deal with companies that only have a post office box number and no phone number. Be sure you know their return and refund policy. And if the price seems "too good to be true," that should raise a red flag for you to proceed with caution.

When you order, print it out and save a copy. Note any confirmation number and the URL of the site. By the way, you're always better off using a credit card rather than mailing a check for online shopping. If you don't get your order, you can challenge the charge with your credit card issuer by using your proof of the order.

Be extremely careful if you're asked to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number or checking account information. Your name, address, credit card number, and expiration date are all the merchant needs.

And now, what about that credit card number? Is it really safe to send it over the Net? The only time you can give your credit card number over the Net with complete security is when the virtual store has set up a secure connection. How can you tell? Many times, the URL will start with "https://"; this means that the document comes from a secure server. If you're using Netscape Navigator as your browser, look in the lower left-hand corner of your screen. You'll see a key; if it's broken and on a gray background, it means the site is not secure. If the key is whole and the color bar is blue, the connection is secure, and so are you when you give your credit card number. Microsoft's Internet Explorer uses a lock icon to indicate a secure connection. No lock or key, no card number.

The credit and charge card industry is working on an enhanced level of security using Secure Electronic Transactions (SET). SET, when it's ready, will provide highly encrypted communication between card issuers, merchants, and card members. The promise is that you'll be able to charge things on your charge card without having to transmit the number at all. With online shopping burgeoning, you can be sure security will be foolproof... and hacker-proof.

The text of this article is reprinted by OUPD from Internet Shopper magazine, reprinted by permission, January 10, 1998.

Phyllis L. Eliasberg is a freelance writer working for Internet Shopper.

Reprinted from Internet Shopper magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 (c)1997 Mecklermedia Corporation. All rights reserved.

Internet Shopper logo copyright Mecklermedia Corporation. Other page graphics & layout by OUPD.

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