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Source: The Washington Post

Posted on November 30, 2009

Shopping online is a great way to save time and money, but those efficiencies quickly vanish for people who lack basic online shopping smarts. Take a few minutes to review these safe shopping tips: They may just save you a world of headache and financial pain.

1. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card. The banks are pushing more consumers toward debit cards with a bevy of awards programs because they can charge merchants higher fees than on credit card-based transactions, said Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc. But if your debit card number gets stolen, it might be somewhat more complicated to sort things out, especially if fraud causes overdrafts and bounced checks.

2. Keep track of your receipts. Some experts advise online shoppers to print out all receipts. That's fine, but a simpler and more "green" alternative to this important tip is to simply take a screen shot of your order details, or save the page itself as an HTML file.

3. Shop from a locked-down PC. One piece of advice you almost always see in these Black Monday online shopping tips is to make sure you're running up-to-date anti-virus software. That's fine advice, of course, but if you're just now getting around to taking it, you might want to think twice about shopping online at all with that computer: It may already have a keystroke-logging virus on it. The best piece of advice: Use a Mac, or if you have more than one computer in the home, avoid shopping on the household's communal computer.

4. Look for the SSL sign/padlock in the browser's address bar. If you don't see this conspicuously on the page asking you to enter your personal and financial details, run away. This is the hallmark of one of thousands of fly-by-night consumer electronics shops on the Web. These phantom storefronts often rip off entire display pages from legitimate stores and are here today, gone tomorrow.

5. Avoid bargain-basement shopping online. There's nothing wrong with wanting the best price, but be aware that last year we saw plenty of phantom stores pop up around the holidays, advertising prices way below name-brand stores. If you're the type of shopper who buys from the cheapest online store regardless of whether you've ever bought anything from the site before, consider using comparison-shopping sites such as pricegrabber.com and bizrate.com.

6. Double-check those shipping policies. Make sure you understand the shipping and return policies before you click that "buy" button. Look for stores that offer a shipping date guarantee, and make sure the items you want are actually in stock.

7. Read the fine print. CNET's Dennis O'Reilly has a good tip in his safe online shopping summary: "Just as you can find your browser sporting a new toolbar if you rush through an update of your media player or PDF reader, being in a hurry when you make a Web purchase can cause you to 'sign up' for unwanted offers."

8. Shopping online at work could be hazardous to your career. The Monday after Thanksgiving is often referred to as "Cyber Monday" because many shoppers use the day to buy stuff online that they poked at and played with in stores over the previous weekend. But you might want to think twice about online shopping while at work.

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