Six steps to avoid online shopping scams

I hear from many people who have fallen prey to online scams. Don’t become one of them!

Expect scammers to work overtime trying to trick us out of our money. Be especially wary during peak holiday shopping seasons.

I buy 95% of my electronics online including cameras. Up to now, I have always avoided scams by following six simple steps. These steps don’t take much time but may save hundreds of dollars of your money.

1- Go into “extra careful mode”

If something sounds too good to be true then it is most probably a SCAM. I consider anything with more than a 20% discount to the going price as “too good to be true.” When a price seems too low, I go into my “extra careful mode.”

2- Install the Web of Trust (WOT) plug-in

Web of Trust uses crowd sourced reports of scams, privacy leaks and vendor reputation and immediately warns if a site I am visiting is suspicious or has a bad reputation.

The free WOT add-on indicates which websites you can trust for safe surfing, shopping and searching on the web. Its traffic-light style rating system is easily understood: green means safe, yellow means caution and red means stop.

The Web of Trust website plug-ins/extensions are available for all major browsers including Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari. WOT has warned me off dozens of sites.

It’s important to remember that WOT is crowd sourced so there can be some false positives. So even if a site has a GREEN rating, follow steps three through six below.

3- Always Google the site name

A simple Google search (“site name + scam”) will give you dozens of links to scam monitoring sites or to forums where you can read what others have experienced about that site. Reseller ratings, which offers consumer reviews of online stores, is another good database with ratings on sellers. However as can happen at most online review sites, some sellers try to influence the ratings with false accounts and feedback. And some web sites may not even be featured.

4- Email an online store before buying

If it’s a new site that I have never bought anything before, and if it passes the three tests listed above, I first test the site by dropping them an email inquiring about the product I am interested in. Most reputable sites have some sort of mechanism to get back to you, and you can glean a lot about them in the way they reply. Anything written poorly is a warning sign, as is a reply from a domain other than the website itself (eg. @gmail; @hotmail).

5- Buy something small first

Though this may not be possible especially when in a hurry, buy something small and of lesser value from the site. This way you can test their responsiveness: how they handle shipping, if there are shipping delays; if there are any hidden costs; whether they send the item you ordered; how well it was packed, etc. When doing this, be mindful of how you pay…which leads to the final point.

6- Paying for a purchase

Never pay with Bank transfer, Western Union or Money Order. Never give out your “Verified by VISA” login details or your PayPal or Google Checkout login details to the vendor over email.

Always pay by credit card or through PayPal/Google Checkout as it will be much easier to get your money back if you are scammed. If your credit card allows you to create virtual card numbers (sort of a disposable credit card number with a limit you can set) then use that feature. If you are prompted to enter details make sure you are on the PayPal or Google Checkout page. Check this by looking at the address bar on the browser.

A legitimate seller will never ask for your Social Security Number, Drivers License number or your mother’s maiden name to sell a camera to you. Beware of someone who wants these details.

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