BBB offers tips for online shopping

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving weekend marks the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, but many folks don’t wait for “Black Friday” to begin their search for gifts, food, clothing, and other holiday-related purchases. They’re already using the Internet to decide where, when, and how to get the best deals for their money.

“Savvy online shoppers who look for merchants and Web sites they can trust, who take steps to protect their privacy and the security of their financial transactions, and who heed their instincts will reap the many benefits of online shopping,” said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Buying from reputable merchants is particularly important when you’re buying “from afar.”

To help shoppers find merchants they can trust, the BBB offers a searchable online database ( with reliability reports on more than two million retailers and businesses across the United States and Canada. Shoppers can also look for Web sites that display a BBBOnLine trustmark, which indicates the retailer meets high standards for good online business practices.

To help consumers enjoy a safe online shopping experience, the BBB offers this list of questions to keep handy when looking for electronics, toys, apparel, and other popular categories of gifts this holiday season:

· Is your computer protected? Make sure your computer is equipped with updated spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall.

· Are you in the right frame of mind? If you’re tired or distracted, you may want to postpone your online shopping expedition until you can be fully “cyber-aware.”

· Do you trust the merchant? To check the seller’s reputation, look for feedback comments from other customers or conduct Web searches. Check with the Better Business Bureau for a report about the retailer’s marketplace record. Look for a “trustmark” from BBBOnLine or another reputable organization and click on that seal to confirm that it is valid.

· Do you have all the details? Don’t do business with any retailer that does not provide its physical address and a contact telephone number for customers. You should know how much the product or service costs, if there are shipping and handling charges, the delivery time-frame, if a warranty or guarantee is offered, the seller’s privacy policy, and the retailer’s cancellation and return policy. Print out a copy of your confirmation page in case you need it later.

· Will your online purchase be secure? Look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. Don’t be fooled by spoofed sites that feature convincing “security” measures. If you have doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is “not encrypted.”

· Will your personal information be protected? Read the site’s privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used.

· Are your instincts telling you to beware? Listen to your gut.

This article was provided by the Anchorage Better Business Bureau. For more information, call (907) 562-0704.

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