All Press Releases for December 05, 2004

WHOA Cautions Consumers To Shop Safely Online This Holiday Season

Most U.S. consumers shopping online are concerned about finding reputable sellers offering genuine products, according to a 2003 Business Software Alliance survey.

    / - When it comes to online shopping, you hear about the horror stories more often than about the good experiences. The truth is that online shopping is as safe as offline shopping, if not safer.

"Probably the most common mistake is that many consumers think they're safer paying with a money order, bank check or personal check, when a credit card provides more protection," notes Jayne Hitchcock, president of WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) and author of Net Crimes & Misdemeanors ( "If something happens and your credit card number is compromised, you are not responsible for the fraudulent charges; if someone cashes the money order, bank check or personal check and you don't receive the expected merchandise, more than likely you're out of luck."

With the holidays fast approaching and so many bargains available online, consumers shouldn't worry about doing their gift shopping online. Not only do many online retailers offer free shipping to the gift recipient, many offer free gift wrapping as well.

"Just think of the time you'll save," Hitchcock marvels. "No traffic going to and from the malls, no waiting for a good parking space or having to park far from the entrance, then walk in nasty weather to the store, no more crowds, rude salespeople, and so on."

WHOA frequently gets cases involving victims of online scams or a shopping transaction gone wrong, especially at this time of year. Hitchcock offers these five tips for safe online shopping to keep consumers from becoming a victim (from her book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors).

1. Take a careful look at the online retailer. Do they have their own domain name (such as Or do they use a free web site hosting service such as Geocities or Tripod? Having their own domain name does lend more credibility, and these days, with domain registration and web site hosting fees so low, there is no excuse for a legitimate merchant to not have a professional web site.

2. If the online merchant has only an e-mail contact and no physical address or phone number listed, shop elsewhere.

3. Try to use one credit card for all your online purchases. If something does go wrong, it’s easier to cancel one card instead of several.

4. Check shipping rates and delivery dates - what may look like a really good deal could have padded costs in the shipping or the item is shipped via the lowest cost and slowest delivery time.

5. Check where the item is coming from - this is especially important in online auctions - if it’s coming from outside the country you live in, beware of high shipping and customs fees.

"The other concern is how to tell if an online shopping site or retailer is legit or safe to shop at," Hitchcock notes. "The two easiest ways to tell are to look at the top of the web browser. Where the address reads something like http//, once items have been selected for purchase, go to checkout or look at the shopping cart or basket. The address should change to something like https// - the 's' means the site is now secure. The other way to tell is to look at the bottom of the web browser. There should be a plug or a lock at the bottom (or sometimes nothing). When surfing the web, the lock is unlocked and the plug is unplugged.
Once items have been added to a shopping cart or basket, or when checking out, in addition to the 's' in the address line, the lock should now be locked and the plug plugged in."

There are more ways to tell if a shopping site is secure, as well as other online shopping and auction tips. For more information, contact Jayne Hitchcock at [email protected] 815-550-5059. If you're interested in a review copy of her book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors, contact Heather Rudolph at Information Today, Inc., [email protected] or 609-654-6266.

WHOA is an all-volunteer organization devoted to promoting online safety and helping adult victims of online crimes.

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Jayne Hitchcock
Dover, NH
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