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Online Shopping
 Jul 26, 2004

Is it safe to use your credit card when shopping online? There are steps you can take before and after choosing to use your credit card online to reduce the risks of identity theft. This article will review the pros and cons of online shopping and how to resolve problems.

Identity fraud is the fastest growing crime in the United States. And, even though online companies try to make sure that their Web sites are secure, nothing is completely safe. Indeed, no matter what you do, there is no sure way to completely prevent identity fraud. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances that your identity will be stolen.

Before you make your purchase

Up until the point you put in personal information, like your credit card, you are relatively safe online. Before you make that purchase, though, there are some precautions you can take to ensure that you are protected while using your credit card for shopping over the Internet:

  • Check your computer security. The first thing you need to do is to make sure that things are secure on your end of the transaction. First of all, get some Internet security software. This is software that you can put on your computer to protect it. Get a program that includes spyware blocker, privacy controls, firewall and other security measures. The other thing you can do is choose to use an Internet browser that uses such security measures as encryption.
  • Consider the company. Is the company reputable? Are you working with someone who is trustworthy? Make sure that you are dealing with a company that has a good reputation, and takes security seriously. One thing you can do is check for a security certificate. Companies like VeriSign and eTrust provide certificates for companies that are using security products. Another thing you can check is to see that the company switches to a secure address when it is time to put in personal information and credit card information. You can tell by looking at the address bar. A secure page will have "https" instead of "http."
  • Find out about the return policy. In some cases, safety is more about making sure you get reasonable customer service. Find out what the return policy is on the items that you buy. You want to be able to exchange items if they arrive broken, or if you need a different size.

After you make your purchase

Practicing good safety for Internet credit card shopping is also important after the purchase has been made. Even though the purchase is complete, the danger is not over. It is important to make sure that you continue to protect yourself. Here are some of the steps you should follow after completing an online purchase:

  • Print out a confirmation. When the confirmation page pops up, make sure you print out a hard copy. Later, after the item arrives and the charge is properly recorded on your credit statement, you can shred it. But the confirmation is important. It is physical evidence of your purchase. And it provides a number that you can use if you need to call with questions or concerns. You can also use this confirmation and compare it to the amount that shows up on your credit card statement.
  • Close your browser window. When you are done making your purchases online, make sure that you completely close out of the browser window. If you have an account with the merchant, log out of the account before you close the window. This will ensure that you aren't living open trails for potential identity thieves to follow.
  • Check your email. Make sure you have provided a current email address that you can be reached at. Then check your email. Confirmation, along with shipping information or other pertinent information may be sent there. You can check your email on a regular basis to make sure everything is as it should be.
  • Compare with your credit card statement. Make sure that you compare your purchase with what appears on your credit card statement. This is important. You want to make sure that your credit card is charged accurately. You should also check for charges that you didn't make. This could indicate that your identity is stolen. Keep a close eye on your credit card statement and report irregularities to the credit card company.

Resolving problems with credit card purchases

Fortunately, if someone uses your credit card number to make a fraudulent purchase, you are only liable for $50. But you have to be vigilant and catch these problems. If the merchant hasn't delivered as promised, you can actually dispute the charge. The credit card company will refund you the money while you resolve the problem in some cases.

Remember to check your credit report regularly to keep tabs on your credit situation, and to guard your personal information as closely as possible. This way, you can limit your exposure to the risk of identity theft.

Related Article: Credit Card Safety >>

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