It looks like everyday, we hear horror stories about someone who purchased something online and now is haunted by unauthorized transactions being applied to their card. Many people see this as being an "internet problem", unfortunately, that is not true. Unscrupulous people waiting to take advantage are everywhere. As consumers, we all need to be more attentive to our personal business, more so now, that we are using our credit and debit cards regularly and frequently online and off.
Only once in the last several years have I experienced a problem with charges being applied to my card that were not legitimate. Oddly enough, it was not even from an online transaction but from a store visit, and it was never really explained to me how the sales clerk made the error, however, she charged me twice. I was able to correct this with a simple phone call. Would it have been that easy if I had not monitored my transactions and done it quickly? I am not sure, but in conjunction with being careful about personal information, one needs to also be attentive and regularly check bank balances, debts, and credits.
What can you do to make your transactions safer? I have managed an online cyber- store for a large company for the last seven years, we have never had a problem with any of our customers having their information stolen and used in an unauthorized manner. What can you do to make your transactions safer? Here is what I would suggest:
First, always make sure the site you submit to order is using secure socket layers (SSL). This is currently the highest standard of security a site can offer, make sure the ones you do business with use this technology, most do, always double check.
Another thing, I always look for is a phone number and physical street address. I am amazed at the sites that simply do not list their address, or give a PO Box, which gives a vague appearance. While I realize many businesses, the company I work for included, have PO boxes, one should really list their physical street address just to make people feel comfortable.
And there are still online businesses that do not list a phone number !. How can this be? What if you have a problem? I realize e-mail is convenient, but I still want to know that I can reach someone by phone. One more thing, when I call a business and a real person answers, that means a lot. I know this is a business that REALLY does care about it's customers, invites personal interaction, and will be there should I have a problem. Somehow, a pre-recorded message that says "your call is important to us" does not do the same thing for me as having a real person greet me when I call, and how important is my call if they are not willing to answer my Calls. That is just a personal observation and pet peeve.
When you are checking out a business' online presence be sure and look for certificates from various agencies, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). These will help you to know you are dealing with a company that is making every effort to secure it's customers that they are a bona fide entity.
A legitimate company will never ask you to send personal information via e-mail. NEVER. Make it a rule to never respond to an e-mail that request your personal credit / debit card information or any other banking information. This is one rule to never forget, not once, ever, for any reason. I do hope I am being clear on this.
Credit card companies are now making online businesses conform to stringent guidelines in regard to customers personal information. Companies that accept credit cards are being required to take that responsibility seriously. What that means is companies must keep personal information, such as names and addresses behind a secure firewall and once again, they are not allowed to store your credit card information on a computer that accesses the Internet. The best policy, and one that serves the business and customer well, is to destroy the customer's credit card information after the charge has been made.
Always double check your invoice from a company. Make sure they have not listed your credit card info on the invoice that travels with your order. Boxes with orders and invoices inside, on occasion do get lost or mis-placed, you do not want your banking information being read by anyone else. A company that removes your credit / debit card info from the invoice before placing it in your order is one that is looking out for your best interest.
What about that person on the other end of the phone, the one you are possibly reciting your credit card information to? How safe is that? As a customer, it is your right to ask that question. For example, the persons answering the phones and handling customers' sensitive information in our office have all been at our company for over ten years. Very stable environment. New and unauthorized personnel do not have access to customers' personal information. Merchants who are concerned about the integrity of their businesses do not permit just any employee to access customers' personal and critical information.
So, in summary, here are the key points to keep in mind when shopping online:
1. Be attentive to the charges placed against your credit card / debit cards. Check your account on a regular basis. Contact your bank immediately about any discrepancies.
2. Make sure the site you are shopping with is using secure socket layers (SSL). How do you know? Many times, a window will pop up and alert you to the fact that you are being directed to a secure site, you should have popup blocker software installed, a small lock will appear at the bottom of your screen in the system tray.
3. Always double check to make sure the site has posted their physical street address. Should the business list a toll free number, that is even better. A company that values customers' feedback will go to the expense of providing a toll free number and will have an office staffed with knowledgeable people.
4. Look for certification seals from various agencies, these seals declare this business wishes you to feel safe and have met the standards require to obtain the "seal of approval".
5. Never send personal information by e-mail. Never. And you should receive e-mails that look like they are from a business you recognize, or from your bank or PayPal account, and they request an update on your personal information, by e-mail, no less, ALWAYS assume these are spam, Because they are!
Most of the online companies are endeavoring to conduct their business with the highest standards, they are concerned about the welfare of their customers, and seeking to protect them to their full ability. A legitimate company welcomes the opportunity to answer your questions and alleviate your concerns. Next time, just ask! If you do not feel comfortable after that, then move on. Make safe online transactions a habit and trust your instincts!