Online Purchasing Tips

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:

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".

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.

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

If paying by credit card is not an option, request that the goods be sent C.O.D. and make payment by personal check or money order, which is easier to trace than a cashiers check. Consider using an "e-cash" payment system, which may offer protections against fraud.

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.

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:

Online Auction Tips

Most 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 auction house's escrow service, which can minimize your risk, usually for a small fee.

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, especially for significant purchases. 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, attempt to 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 may be a good source for learning about other buyers' past experiences with a seller.

Online Travel Tips

Although the Internet offers consumers an easy way to purchase discounted airline tickets and plan family vacations from the comfort of home, New Yorkers may want to be aware of the following before making travel arrangements online.

There are a number of different types of Web sites with information about travel services:

Some services allow consumers to search for fares using specific times and dates. The results can usually be sorted by such factors as airline preferences or lowest fare. Once the consumer is satisfied with the quoted fare, he or she can usually purchase the ticket directly from the Web site.

Other services ask consumers to commit to a particular price and then allow the Web site to select the airline to fulfill the traveler's request. These sites may allow you to "name your own price," but require you to submit a credit card number at the time you register for the service.

Tickets purchased online may be in the form of an "e-ticket," meaning that you will not receive a paper ticket in the mail prior to your trip. If you attempt to use your ticket to fly standby on another airline, they may require you to obtain a paper ticket from your original carrier. Consumers should also be aware that discounted fares are often tied directly to online promotions and may not be available offline (i.e., on the phone or through a travel agent). In addition, some airlines may offer specials that are only available on their own company Web sites.