Online shopping (Consumer alert)

Online shopping is convenient, in that you can shop around, find the best prices, and have your packages delivered right to your doorstep without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home; but getting a great deal online involves more than just getting the lowest price.

You will want to be sure that products arrive on time, that quality is what you expected, that items include a proper warranty, and that there is a way for you to return products or get support with any questions or issues you have. Apply these tips to improve the security of your shopping experience.

1. Always place orders from a secure connection 

Don’t do your shopping in coffee shops and malls. If you’re shopping online while using a wireless network, it needs to be encrypted to ensure that no one can collect your information; with public Wi-Fi, there’s a bigger chance for fraudsters to intercept your connection and get hold of your usernames and passwords. 

Avoid making any financial transactions when using a public network, as you may not know if it’s compromised.

2. Know the merchant and their reputation

If you already know the store, shopping their online store is very safe. You can always walk into the local store for help if there’s a problem, and if you know others who have had consistently positive experiences with the online store, you can be reassured of the site’s quality.
If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best bet; you just need to take a few more precautions. Conduct your own background check by looking at sites dedicated to reviewing online stores. If the store is not reviewed or does not have favourable reviews, don’t order from their website.

3. Avoid offers that seem “too good to be true” 

Any online store that promises too much at too low a price is suspicious. If the price is too low, consider whether the merchant came by the items legally, if you will ever receive the items you paid for, whether the items are actually the brand showed or a cheap substitute, if the item will work, if you will be able to return damaged goods. Disreputable online stores – like their brick and mortar counterparts, may run an absurdly low price offer and then claim the item is out of stock, to try to sell you something else in a classic “bait” scam.

4. Don’t use an online store that requires more information than necessary to make the sale. 

Expect to provide some method of payment, shipping address, telephone number, and email address, but if the merchant requests other information, walk away. Some companies ask questions about your interests, but these should always be optional and you should be cautious about providing the information. Check the site’s privacy policy to understand how exposed your information may become. Many stores clearly state that they do not share consumers’ information. Stick to the companies that respect your privacy.

5. If you need to create a password for the site, make it unique.

You will often be asked to create an account with a password when you make a purchase. Usually, you can choose not to do this, and unless you will use the online store frequently, don’t create an account. If you do want an account, make sure to use a unique and strong password.

6. Is the site secure? 

Before entering any personal or credit card information onto a shopping site look to see if the web address on the page begins with “https:”, not “http:” That little ’s’ tells you the website is secure and encrypted to protect your information.

7. Making payments 

Consider designating one card that is only for online shopping and transactions. This way, if the card gets compromised, you can quickly shut it down without impacting any other type of transactions.

8. Debit or Credit Card?

Shopping online is easiest with plastic, but some plastic is better than others. It’s advisable only to ­use credit cards, rather than debit cards, for online shopping. Credit cards represent an extension of credit, while debit cards draw directly from your bank account. Once in possession of your banking information, hackers can do much more damage to your finances than with your credit card number.

9. Always check the company’s shipping terms. 

Some merchants charge exorbitant shipping fees that can turn a shopping bargain into an expensive mistake. Look to see if they provide tracking and insurance. Understand what carriers they use, and be particularly cautious if the item will not be shipped within 10 days.

10. Don’t fall for email scams

You might get emails or texts offering amazing bargains or claiming there’s been a problem with package delivery. Delete suspicious messages from unfamiliar senders and do not open attachments or click links in messages because they could infect your computer or phone with viruses and other malware.

For advice on becoming a ‘Smart Consumer’ you can contact the Eastern Cape Office of the Consumer Protector on:

 Sharecall Number: 0860 007 255 or EMAIL: