It’s the holiday season and you’ve probably noticed that the number of stores sending out holiday advertisements skyrocketed the day after Halloween. In class we’ve discussed how practicing 6 steps for due diligence when shopping on either a computer or mobile device can make the difference between getting a deal or a disaster.
Last year, 30 million people used the internet to buy holiday presents including 48% of teens aged 12-17 . This year analysts expect even more people to shop online, including 15% who are expected to do so through a mobile device . Whether your teens are shopping online for gifts or just trying to get in on a good bargain, learning how to shop safely online is a critical skill all teens need to master because getting a great deal takes a lot more than just looking at the price tag.
The 6 precautions we discussed in class are:
1. Start with a secure internet environment.
If your computer, tablet or cell phone isn’t protected from viruses and other malware your financial information and passwords will be stolen as you make purchases (as will everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet far less than half of the US population adequately protects their computers – and only 4% have security protection on their tablets or smartphones.
Have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed and up-to-date on all internet connected devices.
Secure your internet connection by ensuring your computer’s firewall is on, and encrypting your wireless network. Then, never use a public WiFi service for any type of financial transaction or other type of sensitive information transfer.
2. Learn which companies to trust. You need to either know the company – or know their reputation.
If you already know the store, shopping their online store is very safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help. If you already know the online store’s reputation you will also be very safe.
If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best option; you just need to take a few more steps. Search online for reviews from other users to see what their experiences were with the company, and conduct a background check by looking at sites that review e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, Better Business Bureau). If the store isn’t listed as a legitimate site by one of these sources, or the store has a lot of negative reviews, DON’T SHOP THERE. It’s that easy.
3. Know how to avoid scams.
The holiday season is the best time for email and web scammers because they know millions of people will be spending billions of dollars online. To give you a sense of how much money is spent, in December of 2010, $32.6.8 Billion dollars were spent on internet shopping sites.
The best way to avoid scams is simple. NEVER, ever, click on a link in an email or on website advertisement no matter how reputable the host website or email sender may be. The website ad or email may be a really good fake, or the website or email account may have been hijacked by spammers. Instead, use a search engine and find the deal or store yourself – if you can’t find the deal on the legitimate store’s site you know that ‘offer’ was a scam.
4. Protect personal information.
Many sites encourage you to create a user account, but unless you truly plan to shop there often you’ll be better off not doing so. If you do choose to create a profile, do not let the store keep your financial information on file. All you really need to purchase something should be your name, mailing address, and your payment information.
5. Make payments safely using a credit card or well respected payment service.
Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime. However, your child probably doesn’t have a credit card, so we’ve suggested they may want to strike a deal with you to put the charges on your card – when they hand you the cash – may be a good option.
Or, we suggested they can use a payment service like PayPal that hides their financial information from the online store and can be set up to take money out of their bank account. They should never use checks, cashier’s checks, wire transfers, or money orders as these carry high risks for fraud.
Finally, do your research.
Just because a store claims to have the lowest price, doesn’t mean they actually have the best deal.
Comparing the advertised price of an item doesn’t give you the full picture. You have to look at the final price – that includes any shipping, handling or taxes to see which deal may be really be the better bargain. Some companies show lower prices, but make up the discount by charging high shipping fees.
Check the company’s return policy. Some companies charge fairly steep return fees for shipping and restocking, so if you think the item may be returned factor this into the price as well.
Look for online coupons or discounts. Lots of stores offer special deals if you just take the time to look for them. Typing the store’s name and ‘coupon’ is usually all it takes to discover whether extra discounts may apply.
As you help teens with holiday shopping, reinforce these safe shopping skills to help them now, and for the rest of their lives.