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4 Tips for Safer Online Shopping

New and growing technology has made online shopping easy and convenient. It also offers a greater selection than one storefront, opening doors to products and services that may not be available at a nearby brick-and-mortar store.

But online shopping isn't without its risks; consumers still have to beware of scams, credit card fraud and dishonest sellers. Make sure you're prepared to shop smart so you can get good deals on the items you want—and avoid becoming a victim of fraud or theft. Follow these tips to help you shop safer online.

How to Avoid Online Scams

The best way to avoid getting scammed online is to purchase from reputable sellers on secure websites. Unfortunately, there are fraudsters that will do everything possible to convince you that a fake website is actually reputable. Because many fraudulent sites mimic authentic retailers with URLs and logos that are almost exactly the same, make sure the site you're using is legitimate.

  • Look for the secure lock. One of the best ways to ensure that you're purchasing from a secure site is to look for a lock symbol in the address bar. Other warning signs include grammar and spelling mistakes or graphics that look fuzzy or unprofessional.
  • Use a credit card for purchases. Unfortunately, even legitimate retailers can become victims of hackers sometimes. Using a credit card rather than a debit card or other form of payment helps ensure that your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. That means you can dispute fraudulent charges and withhold payment while the creditor investigates. If someone is able to use your card without your permission, you are may liable for only the first $50 in charges, but many credit card companies don't even require that.

How to Avoid Buying Subpar Products

It's not uncommon to see an ad on social media or purchase something online only to find out that the product delivered doesn't look like the photo, doesn't work properly, or was cheaply made. It’s important to make sure you're getting what you expect—and what you're paying for.

The best way to do that is to carefully research the return policies of a site before making a purchase. If there's no option for returns or refunds, the site may not be the best place to make a purchase. Take time to read reviews from other purchasers who have shopped there. You shouldn't necessarily be swayed by one negative review, but a number of negative experiences should be a red flag. Also, check to see if the same product photo you're viewing is used on multiple seller sites; if so, it could be a bogus site lifting photos from legitimate sites and may not provide the same quality product.

How to Research Deals

Shopping online offers plenty of opportunities to save money—if you know how to find the deals.

One of the best ways to find deals is to start early. Whether you’re looking for the perfect birthday gift or it’s the holiday season, give yourself plenty of time. Take advantage of Black Friday deals for the holiday, but don’t forget about other holidays like July 4th and Memorial Day. Retailers often have sales that coincide with long holiday weekends.

You can use shopping apps to find customized deals, especially for big ticket items look into Cently or Honey. These apps instantly find coupons during the checkout process.

How to Stick to Your Budget

You can't stick to a budget if you don't have one, so start by actually creating one. Whether you’re shopping for holidays or birthdays make sure to include all the expenses, such as food and décor for parties in addition to gifts.

Once you've set a budget, commit to sticking to it. There are plenty of ways to creatively save money; for instance, look for handmade gifts on sites like Etsy or from local sellers on social media sites.

Also, you can sell online as easily as you can buy online. Think about selling unused toys and clothing you have around the house to earn some extra cash. And if you have a credit card with rewards, maybe it's time to cash in on some of your rewards points. In many cases, you can trade points on rewards sites for high-end items.

While online shopping has become the go-to way to shop for many consumers, take these extra precautions to ensure that your experience is safe and secure.

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