From the Kenosha News on 11-28-04

Be smart, safe when shopping online

      With Christmas fast approaching, I'm going to shift the focus of this column for a couple of weeks toward holiday-related uses of technology, such as gifts for computer users and digital photography.  This week's topic is on-line shopping.

      Before you buy anything on-line, if you have college-bound children, grandchildren, or other family and friends, register at Upromise.com so that qualifying purchases will earn money towards college.  I've been doing this for a few years, and the money does add up, albeit gradually.  For example, you can earn 3% at Landsend.com, 5% from Walmart.com, etc.

      Next, decide if on-line shopping is right for your purchases.  Remember that buying something on-line isn't necessarily less expensive than going to a store.  There may or may not be tax on your on-line purchases, but they will likely have shipping charges that could outweigh any potential savings.  If you're buying something for friends or family that live far away, then you would have to ship the purchase either way, so it makes sense to have the item shipped directly to the recipient. 

      If you're shopping for teenagers or you need a last-minute gift, then an "electronic gift certificate" from Amazon.com or a similar place makes a lot of sense.  They are usually delivered to the recipient's e-mail the same day and can be redeemed for anything the vendor offers.  A gift certificate from Ebay.com can also be used at Half.com toward on harder-to-find CDs, movies, and video games.

      If you do shop on-line, pick one specific credit card to use so that you can watch that statement very carefully to look for possible mistakes or misuse.  In general, you will not be liable for fraudulent charges to your card over a certain amount (often $50), but check with your card company, and watch your statement, because you'll only be protected from charges that you notice and dispute. 

      When making on-line purchases, watch carefully for the "locked lock" in the lower right-hand corner of your browser window.   It may not be there while you make your selections, but it should be when you are at the "checkout" entering your credit card number.  Also, look for https:// at the beginning of the web address in your browser's address bar.  Both of these items indicate that you're using a secure web site that encrypts your credit card number to protect it from hackers.

      If you are using a shared computer, be careful not to check a box instructing the computer to "remember my login and password."  If you do, then anyone else who uses that computer could easily place orders using your account.  To be even safer on shared computers, once you are finished with your purchases, clear the cookies using Internet Options under the Tools menu.  Finally, exit from the site and come back to it to see if your account information is still available.  If it is, look for a "Sign Off" link or button.

      If holiday crowds don't help your holiday spirit during this "biggest shopping weekend of the year," follow these tips for safer, smarter on-line shopping.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 11-28-04