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Shopping Online


Technical Tips - Shopping Online, Is It Safe?

General Info

Current estimates state that in 1998, online commerce - the buying and selling of goods and services over the Internet - exceeded $37.5 billion in sales. But is shopping online safe? Can someone steal your credit card information? Will you really receive what you paid for? These are some of the questions online consumers are asking. The answers to these questions depend largely on who you do business with.

If you think about it, shopping with a credit card always presents some risks. For instance, what is to stop a telemarketer who takes orders over the phone, or the cashier at the Mall from stealing your card number and purchasing items with it. Let's take a moment to review the reasons why using your credit card over the Internet is just as safe as - if not safer than - giving your number to a catalog order desk over the telephone? Check out the following list:

  • Reputable online merchants use secure Web servers to scramble or encrypt all sensitive information to and from their Web sites.
  • Merchant-to-bank information uses public-key encryption methods to additionally secure the information and establish the identity of the parties involved.
  • You're legally protected in the United States by the same Federal laws that protect mail and telephone orders.

In general, online shopping is safe if you follow a few guidelines.

Shop Only On Secure Web Servers!

A secure Web server is one that uses a special type of computer communication known as SSL (short for Secure Socket Layer). You can tell that you're connected to a secure server by the symbols in your browser's status bar: Netscape Communicator uses a glowing locked padlock (also visible in the main toolbar as the Security button); Microsoft Internet Explorer also displays a locked padlock in the status bar and, if you pass your mouse over the symbol, it displays the type and level of encryption -- for example, SSL secured (40 bit).

Shop With Reputable Merchants

When shopping online, use common sense and good judgement. Deal with reputable merchants whose names and brand names you are familiar with. Read each screen carefully as you proceed through the transaction. It's usually a good idea to write down order numbers and other important information, but most online ordering systems will automatically e-mail you a receipt or tell you to print one.

Optimize Your PC's Security Settings

There are a number of settings that you can use to control how your PC and web browser deal with various security issues. The settings and options on your PC depend on which operating system and web browser you are using and are beyond the scope of this article. You should however understand these settings and review them. Use your operating system and web browser's Help features to learn more, or see the book featured below - you can even order it online!

More Information

Buying Online For Dummies
Joseph W. Lowery, Tim Gallan

Click here to order Buying Online for Dummies from Barnes and Noble
Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 287pp.
ISBN: 0764503790
Publisher: IDG Books Worldwide
Pub. Date: January  1998

Buying Online For Dummies tips you to the best virtual stores and the right products at the right prices, all from the comfort of your home or office computer. You'll find helpful advice to make secure transactions over the Net, buy and sell through online classified ads, and set up your own Internet connection optimized for online shopping. Be sure to check out this book's 70+ pages of great online outlets -- from travel services to books and music -- and the book's bonus CD-ROM, which includes current versions of both Netscape and Microsoft Web browsers as well as other cool shareware and freeware programs to make your online shopping experience fun, safe, and hassle-free.

Click here to search for other books!

* For more Tech Tips see the Tech Tip Archives!


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This site last updated on April 14, 2002.