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Shopping Safely Online

With electronic commerce – also known as e-commerce – it has never been easier to shop. For shopaholics it means around the clock shopping hours and for those dreading the thought of busy malls and shops, it means not leaving the comfort of your own home, while still obtaining necessities.

Almost anything under the sun can be bought online. But, from time to time the same glitches as with old-fashioned shopping, pops up. This can vary from poor customer service to huge problems such as hackers getting their hands on e-clients’ financial and personal information.

Make sure your online shopping experience is as safe and enjoyable as possible with the following handy guide.

A secure website uses encryption technology that prevents other parties to obtain the information. The technology enables information to transfer directly from your PC to the dealer’s computer. With out decoding technology and legitimate access privileges, it is impossible to get your hands on the information. It is, of course, possible for hackers to get access to information if the company you are buying from, does not store the info in encrypted format. Read the merchant’s privacy and security policy beforehand to find out exactly what they do with your information. 

1. When you look at the address bar, the address should read “https://” in stead of “http://”. The “s” indicates that it is a secure site.
2. Look for a closed padlock at the bottom of your screen. If the lock is open, it is not a secure site.
3. Look for an unbroken key on your screen

Remember, knowledge is power. Know who you are dealing with. If you are ordering from a new company, do your homework first. It is advisable to start with a cheaper product in order to learn whether the company is reliable.

Look for the company’s physical address and telephone numbers on the website. If it is possible, get someone to check them up before you put in your order. Don’t hesitate to call them and ask questions to verify the company’s credibility.

As explained above, it can be dangerous if the company you are dealing with, doesn’t store your data in secure form. Any site worth their reputation should have a privacy policy. This will explain what the company does with client’s info and whether they are sharing it with other companies (they usually do this for advertising purposes). If this is the case, expect spam-mail from these companies. Some sites have the option for you to indicate if you don’t prefer such mails.

Circumstances can change and companies’ policies too. Be aware of the fact that your information might only be secure for a short while.

According to some sources the safest way to shop online is with your credit card. If something goes wrong, you have some legal protection. It is advisable to have a separate credit card only for online-buying. This way you can easily pick up errors and mistakes in your statements.

Checks and debit cards exposes your bank account details to unauthorised people who can change amounts in seconds.

Obviously there is certain information – such as name and address – that an online company needs. But, they will use the opportunity to get more info out of you in order to use it for marketing purposes.

Unless you are interested in spam-mail, give them only the most important information. If you don’t think a question is necessary for your order, don’t answer it. A good site will mark questions required to be answered with an asterisk (*).

Rather find a different site for the product if you are not comfortable with the questions the current site asks. You can’t be too careful.

Reputable sites request of users to provide a password and log-in before they can use the site. Keep this password to yourself. According to sources the best password is at least eight characters long and consists of both numbers and letters. It is advised that you don’t use the same password for several sites. 

It was done in the past that cyber thieves recreate websites that looks exactly the same as the sites of well-known online companies. This enabled them to get hold of clients’ details and bank accounts. Check the address bar to verify that you are at the real company’s site.

After placing an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that reviews the entire order. This can pop up immediately after you placed your order or you will receive it via e-mail. Print at least one copy and keep it for your own records – at least for the time of the warranty or return period.

Your life will be much easier if you shop at South African online companies. Not only are they easier to trace in case of returns or problems, they are also prone to be cheaper because of fewer transport costs. 

The company will state how long it will take them to ship your order to you. If they don’t do it in time, you are able to cancel your order and ask for a full refund. Some questions to ask:

• Are there any geographic or other delivery restrictions?
• Are there any choices for shipping?
• Who pays for the shipping and are the fees reasonable?
• Is any shipping insurance included?

Sometimes it just happens that you are not entirely happy with a product and want to return it. Expect the same quality of customer service when dealing with an online-company as you will expect of a company not operating over the internet.

Find out what the company’s stance on this is and who pays for the return-shipping.

There is usually a time constraint when returning merchandise. Make sure when this is and return your product within this time span. Also check if you will be refunded with cash or store credit. 
Some other important things to find out are:

• Does the merchant have a phone number or other device for handling complaints?
• How long has the company been in business and how long will they still be around?
• Where can you repair or service products locally?
• Are there any warranties on the products and what are the limits on this?

Remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your inner voice and don’t hesitate to question suspicious offers like unusually low prices or extraordinary claims.

Some alarming things to take note of are spelling and grammar errors, phones that aren’t answered or no physical address.

Keep an eye out for identity theft

Identity theft refers to cheaters who obtain information via low-tech means (like mail theft).

Check your credit card records for several months after buying products over the internet. If you pick up any irregularities, immediately contact your credit card company.

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