10 Tips for Safer E-Commerce

American Express

Years of fraud and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous Website operators have left even the most porn-hungry consumer reluctant to purchase a Website membership out of fear that they will be 'ripped off.' Knowing what savvy consumers are being told about the 'safest way' to make online purchases can help you to develop 'comfortable' and legitimate policies and practices for your own site that should increase your overall conversions and sales. The following 'Top 10 Tips' are from a US Government publication originally prepared by the American Express Company. Use them wisely. ~ Stephen

The Internet is an exciting tool that puts vast information at your fingertips. With a click of a mouse, it lets you buy an airline ticket, book a hotel, send flowers to a friend, or purchase your favorite stock. Good deals, convenience and choices abound on the Internet. But before you use all the Internet has to offer, be "cyber" smart and make your online experience safe.

Shopping online offers lots of benefits that you won't find shopping in a store or by mail. For example, the Internet is always open - seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And, bargains can be numerous online. Shopping on the Internet also can be as safe as shopping in a store or by mail. Keep in mind the following tips to help ensure that your online shopping experience is a safe one.

1) Use a secure browser: This is the software you use to navigate the Internet. Your browser should comply with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or SET Secure Electronic Transaction. These standards encrypt or scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transaction. Most computers come with a browser already installed. You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet.

2) Shop with companies you know: Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name... If you're not familiar with a merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Also, determine the company's refund and return policies before you place your order.

3) Keep your password(s) private: Be creative when you establish a password, and never give it to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date, or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.

4) Pay by credit or charge card: If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating them. In the case of unauthorized use of a consumer's credit or charge card, consumers are generally held liable only for the first $50 in charges. Some cards may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits.

5) Keep a record: Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. Also, you should know that the federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers orders made via the Internet. This means that unless stated otherwise, merchandise must be delivered within 30 days, and if there are delays, the company must notify you. If you can't find a policy, send an email or written message to the Web site to ask about its policy and request that it be posted on the site.

6) Pay your bills online: Some companies let you pay bills and check your account status online. Before you sign up for any service, evaluate how the company is securing your financial and personal information. Many companies explain their security procedures on their Web site. If you don't see a security description, call or email the company and ask.

Technology now provides companies with the ability to collect information about you and potentially give that information to others. While the Internet can serve as a tremendous resource for information, products and services, you should be sure to safeguard your privacy online by following these tips.

7) Keep your personal information private: Don't disclose personal information--such as your address, telephone number, Social Security number or email address--unless you know who's collecting the information, why they're collecting it and how they'll use it. If you have children, teach them to check with you before giving out personal or family information online.

8) Look for a company's online privacy policy: Many companies with privacy practices post their privacy policy on their Web site. A company's privacy policy should disclose what information is being collected on the Web site and how that information is being used. Before you provide a company with personal information, check its privacy policy. If you can't find a policy, send an email or written message to the Web site to ask about its policy and request that it be posted on the site.

9) Easy as ABC: When exploring online, think ABC to remember the privacy and security questions you should ask about a company.

• About me: What information does the company collect about me and is it secure?

• Benefits: How does the company use that information and what is the benefit to me?

• Choices: What choices do I have about the company's use of information about me? Can I opt out of the information uses and how?

10) Make Choices: Many companies give you a choice on their Web site as to whether and how your personal information is used. These companies allow you to decline - or "opt-out" of - having personal information, such as your email address, used or shared with other companies. Look for this as part of the company's privacy policy.

This brief list is but one of the many valuable nuggets of information that all consumers can freely access at the Federal Consumer Information Center (FCIC). While much of the material presented in these documents is aimed at educating the consumer, savvy merchants can also learn proper e-business operation techniques from them that will allow increased revenues and fewer problems from agencies like the FTC. ~ Stephen