Consumers offered tips for safe online shopping

By Gregory Karp
Posted Dec. 9, 2010 at 11:44 a.m.

The Consumer Federation of America on Thursday offered advice for online shoppers to keep their wallets and identities safe this holiday season.

“Unfortunately, there are scam artists and some less-than-honest retailers that take advantage of unwary buyers,” Susan Grant, CFA director of consumer protection, said during a news conference Thursday morning.

The CFA offered these tips:

• Check out unfamiliar sellers. Read customer reviews of retailers, which are available at many price-comparison sites. Search for complaints at the Better Business Bureau. And research the seller on consumer-complaint sites. The CFA previously recommended such sites as,,, and

• Use credit cards. Credit cards provide the best protection because you can dispute charges, putting the card company between your money and a fraudulent retailer. Debit cards also have some protections, but you might be without your money for a while until it’s replaced in your account. And with debit cards you don’t have the legal right to dispute debits if the goods were misrepresented or were never delivered, according to the CFA. Paypal also offers some buyer protection, Grant said.

• Don’t use money transfers. “Legitimate sellers don’t ask for payment that way,” Grant said. Be suspicious of any seller asking for payment via Western Union or MoneyGram. “Money transfer services should only be used to send money to people you have met in person and know well, not to strangers,” she said.

• Look for secure sites. Upon checkout, look at the web address “https” or “shttp,” where the “S” stands for secure. Some browsers use icons, such as a padlock or a broken key made whole.

• Keep records. Save details of transactions. You might even print it to avoid losing information when a computer drive dies.

• Beware of phishing and smishing. Legitimate companies don’t ask you to confirm information by e-mail, phishing, or phone text message, smishing. “Nobody needs to confirm your information if they already have it,” Grant said.

CFA also released a new video about online fraud on YouTube that can be seen here.

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  1. Joseph A'Deo Dec. 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Ah, using credit cards is a GREAT suggestion – always go with credit rather than debit. We’ve got a handful of similar tips we’re distributing (I work at VeriSign); we just want to make sure consumers can recognize the proper kinds of security, and when to be cautious.

    1) Stick to sites you know rather than smaller names sporting low prices that are too good to be true;

    2) Only do business with sites that are protected with https or extended validation ssl (the green url bar) or use a robustly protected 3rd party shopping cart (eg Paypal). Sites have to undergo a hefty background check before they can obtain an EV SSL cert. Also look for Trust Seals from the BBB, or the VeriSign Trust Seal (which is for sites that don’t need encryption but still want malware scanning and identity authentication);

    3) Be ultra aware of your online surroundin­gs. If you get navigated off the site you’re on and taken somewhere else that asks for your private info, you might be in the midst of a phishing attempt;

    4) If you do stray from sites like Amazon, try to use sites that have been referred to you, or have good BBB ratings (check a business here – http://www­­s/Find-Bus­iness-Revi­ews/)

    5) Never use a public computer to shop! And be sure to periodical­ly clear the cookies and change the passwords on your own laptop and desktop PCs.

  2. Cleveland Studer Dec. 10, 2010 at 7:41 a.m.

    I have procrastinated long enough and am really excited about starting my first business.
    I’m reading up on as much as I can to make sure I get started on the right track, and appreciate your info.