Purchasing over the Internet- Is it Safe?

Everyday we hear newscasts and read stories about hackers stealing credit information from Internet companies. Hackers have the ability and knowledge to steal millions of pieces credit information by exploiting weaknesses in software programs used by unprepared e-commerce companies. E-commerce companies about the newest software or shopping cart being used to make us feel comfortable about venturing onto the Internet to shop make claims daily. Internet companies have convinced us to come shop at their site and purchase products using our most valued information — our credit information. Yet, only a very small number of these companies have taken adequate steps to ensure the safety of that information. This has made it difficult for all firms selling online.

I understand completely the ease and danger of purchasing products and services over the Internet. I also understand that e-commerce merchants face more fraud problems than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Thieves from around the world will try to order products and services by using someone else’s credit information. This affects not only the merchants, but also the consumers. Merchants face mounting losses in their attempts to do business over the Internet. Consumers are protected under various federal and state laws when their credit card information is used to make a fraudulent purchase. As a result, one of the biggest irritations for consumers is dealing with the unexpected charge rather than financial loss.

Think of the advantages of shopping online. People all over the world spend a large part of their life shopping. Think of the Internet as the world’s largest open-air market. Items from all over the world can be purchased at the click of a mouse. What once was available to a privileged few now can be purchased by the world’s masses. Online buyers can shop in Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, Bangkok, and any other city in the world where goods are for sale. Instead of people wishing they could purchase a special gift for someone or for themselves, the dream is now possible. A few minutes of your time plus some basic personal and credit information and the item is yours. Even the basics of life, can now be purchased over the Internet. Click and you shall receive.

There are millions of people and businesses using the Internet to purchase goods and services each day. Thousands more are beginning to explore this new found freedom to do comparative shopping and purchase from merchants worldwide. Ask these people what they think about when they enter their credit and personal information into web page forms make a purchase, and the majority will say they worry about having their credit information compromised by some unknown party or company. Airlines for many years have convinced us to fly with them to get to someplace because, all things considered, it is more dangerous to walk down a street than to fly. Likewise e-commerce companies are trying to convince the e-commerce shopper that their site is secure from all preying eyes. I take more precautions when I give my credit information to make hotel reservations, car reservations, or purchase items over the phone, than when I order over the Internet.

Most e-commerce companies are safe and are beginning to take extraordinary measures to make sure that the thieves of the world will not get your credit information. This extra effort being made by companies comes on the heels of the daily articles that are being written and read about hackers stealing credit information from a few e-commerce sites. Some e-commerce companies, such as Digital River, a global e-commerce provider, were concerned about security from the day they started assisting companies sell products over the Internet. Just like most brick-and-mortar companies, some e-commerce companies found they needed tighter security since they would be selling in high-risk geographic areas.

The consumer also shares in the responsibility to take a few precautions when ordering over Internet. If you are new to online buying, the first thing you should do is make sure that you are only ordering from secure sites. An easy way to tell if you are in a secure site is to look for a padlock or a key someplace on the screen. If the padlock is open or the key is broken it is not a secure site. If you are unsure if a site may actually be secure, send the company an e-mail requesting information on how to secure your transaction. If you do not receive a reply from the company, you should find a merchant that offers a secure shopping environment. Use a single credit card for all your Internet purchases. Make sure to keep track of your purchases. The purchase confirmation e-mails that you receive should be kept in a special folder that you can set up in your e-mail box. Use one piece of credit information for all your purchases. Make sure that you use only the billing address that is on the credit card statement. Using consistent information when making a purchase will assist the merchant in verifying and fulfilling your orders. This will also allow you to make sure that it was a legitimate order if there is a need to check on the order status.

Treat Internet purchasing like you would any new shopping experience. I do not believe that you would travel to a foreign land and shop at an open-air market without making sure your cash or credit cards were secured. Like most people, I like to browse through shopping malls and open air markets. Today I use the Internet. No pesky sales people, no lines to wait in, and you can still bargain to get a lower price. I can find what I want, when I want it, and my eyes are the only thing that gets tired. With just a few simple precautions, buying over the Internet can be fun and exciting.

Al Cameron