Online Shopping

The day after Thanksgiving, is the traditional beginning of the seasonal shopping frenzy we call "the holidays".  Many cost-conscious consumers will avoid those crowds, by shopping online.  And, many will get "taken", by con-artists and bogus sites.  How do you protect yourself?

For starters, don't tell sellers any more about yourself, than they need to know. Skip "optional" entries on forms, and tell vendors no, you don't want your information "shared" with their "partners", and you don't want e-mails of "special offers".

Speaking of SPAM, consider using webmail like Yahoo or Hotmail for your internet dealings. It's free, and it'll keep some of the porn and Viagra offerings from flooding your main e-mail.

Be careful how you pay. Don't use debit cards. Use a credit card with a low limit - maybe just a couple of hundred dollars. That way, if someone takes you to the cleaners, you won't lose your shirt. And, look for a little padlock at the bottom of a payment page - it means the site is supposedly secure. Not always - but, you're safer with it, than without it.

Before you buy, check return policies, and "contact information" - look for a street address and phone number, and call the number to make sure it works. Remember, you'll have a hard time shipping anything back without a phone number, or only a post office box for an address!  As for returns, some companies will hit you with a restocking fee, even if what you bought was dead on arrival. And many force you to deal with the manufacturer on some items.

Consider online sellers, that have brick-and-mortar stores in your community. You can buy online, often cheaper, then pick up, or return, without shipping charges. And remember, even with so-called "free shipping" offers, shipping costs can have a big effect on your bottom line.