In my opinion, personal finance is not only about how to save money, or how to not get into debt, or how to create opportunities to make more money, but also about how to not get scammed when buying something. Especially if the sale is done on the internet.
To be honest, our parents had it a bit easier. For instance, if what they bought turned out to be not of such great quality, they simply went back to the store and gave the merchant a piece of their mind.
Well, we can’t really do the same effectively since most of our shopping is done online. However, there are still some things that we can keep in mind not to get tricked in the first place.
1. No SSL protocol, no sale.
SSL is a piece of quite advanced online technology, but luckily, you don’t need to learn anything about it to be able to apply the rule.
In plain English, SSL is responsible for taking your payment information (your name, address, credit card) and sending it to the merchant (or external agency) through a secure channel. If SSL is not working, the transmission is not encrypted and, in result, prone to all kinds of attacks.
To make sure that everything is in order, simply look at the address bar and check if:
- The URL of the site starts with “https” instead of “http” – the standard for non-SSL protected pages.
- There’s a small lock icon next to the address bar.
Here is an example by PayPal :
2. Buying with external solutions
This is a situation that happens when you’re on one site, but once you click the buy button you get redirected to a totally different site, so for a moment you’re kind of wondering what’s going on.
In general, such situations are not unsafe in any way, as long as the new site is actually a respected payment processor.
One of the leading players in this market is PayPal. Many websites use PayPal for payments because of the easy setup and integration process.
To put it simply, choosing a PayPal payment over other payment methods is much safer for you – the customer. Especially if the thing you’re buying is a subscription with monthly payments.
PayPal allows you to cancel your subscription from within your PayPal dashboard without the need to actually contact the merchant. (If the merchant handles your payments directly then opting out of their service is not always that easy.)
Another recognizable marketplace is ClickBank. Whenever you’re buying a product that later on turns out to be based at ClickBank, keep in mind that you get the possibility to ask for a full refund within 60 days of your purchase.
This gives you the ultimate weapon against low quality products. Just make sure to request the refund through ClickBank and not by contacting the merchant directly.
The only actual rule here, is to do online shopping with respected payment operators exclusively. This is something you can check right away on Google whenever you see a strange new payment form. (Quickly google terms like “customer reviews” and “common problems” associated with the payment processor.)
3. Payment processing on the website
Not every online merchant uses an external solution like PayPal to process their payments. Some decide to handle everything on their own within the website.
Essentially, this doesn’t mean any trouble for you as long as you keep in mind the first rule (the one about SSL), and do a quick Google check like mentioned a couple of paragraphs above.
There’s only a handful of quality payment operators out there, and you can be sure that if the merchant is using one of the top-league players, they will be more than happy to let you know about it.
Also, every serious merchant should have a number of badges and seals on their site to provide some proof of transaction security. For instance, if you go to BestBuy, you’ll see three badges at the bottom of the page:
Such seals are issued by respected online agencies that certify and validate various online merchants. The most credible seals come from companies like: TRUSTe, VeriSign, CyberTrust, and Thawte.
It’s usually a good idea to click such a seal to make sure that it hasn’t gone out of date.
Of course, we all know that sites like BestBuy are safe, but the whole trick is to look for the same seals on smaller websites as well. Just because someone is a small operator doesn’t mean that they should be any less responsible.
If you do all of the above, you can be pretty sure that your credit card info will not leak anywhere during the process. However, there are still some more things to be aware of.
4. Look for guarantees
A general rule in business is that if someone is certain that their product is of top quality, they will have no problems at all giving you a guarantee.
For physical products it’s usually 12, 24, or 36 months. For digital products it’s 30 or 60 days.
The safest approach for you is to not buy anything that doesn’t come with a guarantee (even if it’s an e-book). Period.
5. Look for customer reviews
I wouldn’t necessarily advise being the first person ever to buy a certain product… It’s always better to start your shopping by looking for customer reviews and opinions about the thing you want to buy.
However, be careful because there’s a lot of affiliate reviews out there that are not always believable.
Affiliate reviews are written by people who mainly want to promote a given product, and not necessarily share some genuine opinion about it. As a result, if you buy, they get a commission.
Such reviews are quite easy to spot, though:
- They always say almost exclusively positive things about the product.
- They link to the sales page of the product, but the link is not a standard direct link. Instead, it takes you through an affiliate script.
- They are featured on sites that look like they’ve been set up specifically for this purpose.
The number of affiliate reviews is truly massive for digital products, so keep that in mind.
I guess that’s it for my list of 5 things to be aware of when shopping online. What do you think, is there anything else worth mentioning here?
This guest post is written by Joseph, a payment processing expert that help people find the best ACH provider.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com
Category: Money Basics