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How to shop smartly on the Net

A few key strokes and the click of a mouse and you can shop at home from your computer. Sounds great, right? No traffic. No parking problems. No lines or crowds. No hassles with the weather.
Online shopping can give new meaning to convenience and choice. But before you visit your favourite boutique on the Net, take care to make your cybershopping experience safe. Brace yourself for the exhilirating online shopping experience.

Veteran Preachings
Don't provide your credit card number to an Internet merchant who does not run a secure server. Think security, starting with your connection; the way your computer connects through telephone wires to contact the Internet -- and your browser -- the software that acts like a telephone to receive information on the Internet.

Unsecured information sent over the Internet can be intercepted. That's why you should consider a secure browser, which will encrypt or scramble purchase information. Use a secure browser that complies with industry standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP). These often are included with Internet connection services. The credit and charge card industry in U.S. is working on an enhanced level of security using Secured Electronic Transactions (SET). SET protocol provides a highly encrypted communication between card issuers, merchants and card members.

Shop with companies you know. If you'd like to try a new merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order.

Never give out your Internet password to anyone.

Be original when creating your password(s). Consider using a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols, or use a phrase to remember it. For example: RU2GRs48* -- "Are you to give money for eight stars."

Avoid using established numbers for your password, such as your house number, birth date, or a portion of your telephone numbers. It's a good idea to use different passwords to access specific areas on the Internet, such as the World Wide Web.

Be cautious if you're asked to supply personal information, such as your date of birth, to conduct a transaction. It's rarely necessary and should raise a red flag. The Internet provides a valuable information service for consumers. But some con artists who have used telemarketing, newspapers, magazines, and the mail to attract consumers are turning to the Internet and online services to use it to their advantage.

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Pay close attention to the information you are entering when you place an order. For example, an additional keystroke could get you 10 shirts when you wanted only one.

Check to make sure the shipping charge is acceptable to you and all charges are calculated correctly.

Make a note of the company's shipping time. If you need the merchandise earlier, ask if your order can be "expressed" for an additional fee.

Print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.

Use your sixth sense - Use the same judgment and common sense with Internet merchants that you use with telephone solicitors or catalog companies.

Play it safe - Many Internet merchants offer the option of shopping online, then phoning, faxing or even mailing your credit card payment. Even though the process takes longer, your credit card number never travels the net unsecured.

Set up an account - Merchants may also let you make payment arrangements prior to the purchase. You establish an account, registering your credit card information by fax, phone or mail. The merchant will provide you with a unique ID. When you make your online purchases, you use your ID. Then, back at the store, the merchant accesses your payment information. Again, no credit card numbers are transmitted electronically. Again, here the credibility of the merchant has to be properly scrutinized.

Never send your credit card number through e-mail - whether you're on the Internet or not.

Never give your credit card number to an Internet merchant without checking them out first.

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