Tips for Buying Online

With the holiday shopping season upon us, many New Yorkers will take advantage of the Internet to avoid crowds and long lines; and shop from the comfort of their homes. Although online shopping may be convenient, be aware that it is necessary to actively safeguard your privacy and financial information when making purchases online. In order to make your shopping experience a positive one, the Attorney General recommends the following:

1. Always make sure that a Web site is secure before providing any financial information, such as credit card or a bank account number. Secured Web sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the Internet. 
How do you identify a secured Web site?

  • Look for Web site addresses preceded by "https". For example,
  • Look for a yellow or golden closed lock or an unbroken key at the bottom of your browser window.
SSl Lock          SSl Key

2. If you are still uncomfortable with providing your billing information through the Internet, ask the company about alternate methods of ordering, such as the telephone.

3. Whenever possible, consider paying by credit card, which offers additional protection in case of a dispute.

4. If paying by credit card is not an option, request that the goods be sent C.O.D. and make payment by check or money order, which is easier to trace than cash.

5. Consider checking with the Better Business Bureau local to the business for a reliability report. Information in the report includes the length of time the company has been in business, the company's complaint history and whether the business participates in BBB programs, such as dispute mediation.

6. While there is no denying the increasing popularity of online auctions, New Yorkers must exercise the same caution they apply to physical world transactions. Here are some points you should watch for when participating in online auctions:

  • Some online auction houses only act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers during the bidding process and do not get involved in arranging for shipment and payment. Be sure to ask about such arrangements in advance.
  • Online auction houses often will not resolve disputes. Consider using an escrow service, which can minimize your risk.
  • Keep copies of advertisements, descriptions, or auction site printouts for any product you purchase.
  • Keep copies of any correspondence you have with a buyer or seller (including e-mail).
  • Do some homework. Check out the seller before you purchase a product:
  • If the seller is a business, check with the Better Business Bureau nearest the seller for any complaints.
  • If the product is being offered by an individual, obtain and verify real world information (such as name, address and telephone number) with the seller's local telephone company.
  • Establish verbal contact with a seller prior to agreeing to purchase.
  • Check the "feedback" areas of online auction sites; often they're a good source for learning about other buyers' past experiences with a seller.