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Don’t be a distracted customer when it comes to online shopping

HARTFORD – Connecticut Better Business Bureau says shoppers have more to fear than problems with online transactions.  A significant threat lurks every ti...

HARTFORD – Connecticut Better Business Bureau says shoppers have more to fear than problems with online transactions.  A significant threat lurks every time we go out shopping: distraction.

Distracted consumers usually have their guard down and become targets of pickpockets, purse snatchers, and muggers.

“We know there are certain risks involved with online commerce, but crimes of contact happen quickly, sometimes accompanied by personal injury,” said Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz.  “We should be aware of our surroundings in parking lots and busy stores.”

The methods used by thieves are not new.  Criminals have an advantage when we pull out a wallet, credit card or cash at the checkout counter and don’t pay attention to our surroundings.  We are also more likely to be robbed when our arms are full of bags and boxes.

“We should keep in mind that we are vulnerable when we walk from and to our vehicles in a parking lot,” Schwartz said.

The biggest threat to consumers when making online purchases is fraud.  The risks depend on where we shop, how we get there and how we pay.

Most consumers begin browsing for items on reputable websites, and subsequently click around the internet until they find the lowest price.  After clicking through several websites, they can end up on a phony, unfamiliar site.  Some rogue operators set up an online presence that is neither secure nor ethical.  A common problem reported by consumers is paying for merchandise but never receiving it. In addition, fake vendors’ websites may vanish as quickly as they appear.

Better Business Bureau has some tips and reminders to avoid problems while shopping on the worldwide web:

Research unfamiliar websites – Visit bbb.org to see whether there are any complaints or patterns of complaints reported by consumers.

Avoid certain payment methods – Those include wire transfers, cashier’s checks, gift cards and debit cards.  If your debit card number gets into the hands of a criminal operation, the thieves can empty the account the debit card is linked to.  In the event of fraud, a credit card offers substantial protection that debit cards do not.

Look for http “s” – The “s” stands for secure, and it should be appear on all web pages that require disclosing payment information.  The “https” is usually accompanied by a padlock icon on or near your web browser’s address bar.

Get a tracking number – Online sellers are obliged to ship within 30 days, unless you agree to an extension of a delivery deadline.  If they miss the deadline, they are obliged to give you a full refund within one credit card billing period.  A tracking number allows you to see if the merchandise has been shipped and when.

Watch those shipping charges – If you find the online price for an item is substantially lower than other sellers’, factor in shipping costs.  Shipping may not cost anything at all, but in other cases, once you add it all up, you may find the final price isn’t as attractive as on some of the other websites you may have visited.

You can find more information on safe shopping at bbb.org/ct.