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Shopping online has many benefits, such as speed and convenience, to name just two. If you follow these five tips, however, you can add a third: safety. Safety is critical, considering there was an estimated $2 billion of online commercial loss in 2006 due to safety concerns.
~ Look for visual cues
Prominent misspellings and frequent grammatical errors are signs that a website could be fraudulent. You can also look for simple visual cues that show that the site is authenticated and protected.
Such cues include a trust mark such as the VeriSign Secured� Seal, or a green address bar in high-security browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 and soon, Firefox 3 and Opera.
Colour-coded address bars are a feature of Extended Validation Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, which provide added information about a website's authenticity.
Other visual cues include a padlock icon in either the lower or upper right-hand corner of the screen and https:// in the browser; both of these indicate the site is secured.
~ Check out two-factor authentication
A growing number of sites are accepting a second form of user authentication that comes from physical devices such as a token, credit-card form factor, a USB drive, or even your cell phone.
According to Fran Rosch, vice president of VeriSign Identity Protection (VIP) Services, "Each device provides users with a dynamic one-time password that must be entered into a login page in addition to their user name and password. The extra layer of security prevents potential fraudsters from accessing personal accounts that are accessed by a simple user name and password."
~ Compare the checkout experience to those of well-known sites and look for anomalies
Most well-run websites such as Amazon or eBay send order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails and allow you to print out confirmations of your orders. Beware of simple forms that offer no confirmation that you entered or ordered anything.
~ Know your vendor
Read their ratings and reviews from other customers and take red flags seriously. Also make sure you have some way of contacting them -- look for a phone number or mailing address. Finally, try to find out where the company is based in their "About us" section.
~ Pay attention to the order form
The site should not ask for more than your name, shipping address, billing address, credit card type and number, or expiration date. Online stores have no business asking for social security numbers or bank routing numbers.
Finally, demand that the sites you do business with provide you with proper security measures to protect their most valuable asset -- you, the customer.
Online fraud is a growing problem. Fortunately, you can look for cues provided by trust marks or Extended Validation SSL, for example, which shows that the site you are visiting is authentic.
The author is Vice President,
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