Know the seller
Sites such as eBay.ca or amazon.ca serve as worldwide markets where merchants sell everything from electronics, to toys, to power tools and everything in between. “The same rules apply online as they do offline," says Andrea Stairs, country manager for eBay Canada. "If you don't know who you're buying from make sure to do some research."
Shoppers can evaluate and rate other online sites and products on comparison sites, like epinions.com or bizrate.com. On eBay, you can read comments and feedback from previous buyers and directly talk to the seller by clicking on the 'ask the seller' link. Search results are also sorted so that sellers with the most positive feedback are ranked higher. Stairs says she likes to ask the seller how they came to own the item and doesn't recommend buying from anyone with less than a 99 per cent positive feedback rate.
Stick to stores you know
A number of discounts are offered exclusively online and shoppers should feel comfortable taking advantage of them provided they are from a trusted store or shopping site. If a deal seems too good to be true, Stairs recommends checking the site for a logo from a Secure Sockets Layer or SSL. These encrypt personal and financial information so it can't be stolen. A VeriSign logo appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the eBay login page. TRUSTe is another logo to look for to ensure a site is secure.
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Making the purchase
When it's time to enter credit card information on the payment page, the URL in the address bar should switch from 'http' to 'https' where the 's' stands for secure. A little padlock will appear in the bottom right hand corner of the window frame of the browser. "And with recent browsers, such as Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3 and Opera 9.5, you may see the address bar turns green when visiting trusted sites," says Fred Touchette, senior security analyst of AppRiver.
eBay and many other online shopping sites accept PayPal as a payment method. "PayPal is a secure payment system that acts as a middleman and transfers funds to the seller without providing the seller with your banking or credit information," explains Stairs of the system that shoppers can sign up for free online at www.paypal.ca. "You can set it up so that it takes funds out from a bank account, a PayPal balance, or a credit card."
And if the wrong item is sent in the mail, comes damaged or doesn't arrive at all, eBay, PayPal and most credit card companies offer customer protection and will cover the cost of such items.
Spook or fake e-mails are sent by spammers particularly over the holiday season, says Michael D'Sa, senior manager of security and investigation for Visa Canada. They pretend to be from either a bank or PayPal or an online shopping site so they can steal personal and financial information. D'Sa says a bank will never ask for your PIN or other confidential information over an e-mail. Never click on a link or attachment from an unsolicited e-mail. Instead, retype the address in your browser and search for the item yourself.
Stairs offers some great advice: "If this is your first time shopping online, start with something small so you can get used to the process without feeling like you're taking on too much risk. But definitely get in there. There are some amazing deals and an amazing selection of things."
Just like you would if you were shopping in a mall, be smart, ask questions and have fun!
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