Surfing Dangers

One must be careful about the pitfalls of online shopping. Here are some lesser-known traps
Chandralekha Mukerji        Print Edition: May 2013

Shopping online is better for many reasons. You don't have to go out to find what you want, you can avoid traffic, compare prices easily and get better discounts. However, all this comes with risks of Internet security. We are all familiar with phishing mails and the dangers of transacting on an unsecured site and using public computers or shared wi-fi connections. We give some lesser-known tricks and traps online shoppers should be careful about.

USING PRIMARY E-MAIL ACCOUNT
Many of us save bank details, financial statements, salary records and passwords in primary mail accounts. So, it is risky to use these accounts for shopping. If you are a frequent shopper, buy an identity theft insurance cover. It isn't expensive and will provide cover if something does go wrong.

WHEN CASH ON DELIVERY IS NOT AVAILABLE
Cash on delivery and net banking are the safest ways to transact online. However, if these options are not available, go for a virtual credit card. It is an add-on 'card' issued on your primary credit card. All relevant details are available only online. It has a validity of a few months and you can set a credit limit of your choice.

SHODDY SECURITY AND PRIVACY POLICY
Many websites require you to register before placing an order or even viewing products. The web merchant might ask you to enter personal details such as name and address. This should act as a red alert. Such information can be used to send spam mails. Don't answer questions that you think are unnecessary for processing the order. Moreover, such sites require you to agree to certain terms and conditions. Read through these as you might be giving permission to share your details. E-merchants often share your information with affiliate companies. An easy way to avoid privacy issues is to shop from sites that are members of a 'seal-of-approval' programme that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices such as TRUSTe (www.truste.org) and VeriSign (www.verisign.com).

KNOTTY SHIPMENT AND RETURN POLICIES
Sites claim to offer 'free shipping', but there are invariably conditions such as minimum order, charge for transit insurance or a convenience fee. Check shipping policy for product or region-specific delivery charges. For instance, you may have to pay Octroi, a tax levied by states governments on products entering the state. Also, what appears on screen may not be what you get. Online retailers may have an 'exactness not guaranteed' disclaimer. There may also be a list of non-refundable items, such as perfumes and jewellery. A safer option is to shop from sites that let try the products. Also, find out who pays for shipping when returning the order or if there is a time limit. Some retailers levy a restocking charge if you return a product.

DEVIOUS DISCOUNTS
You see a 40% discount sign and conclude you are getting a good deal. However, check the current market price of the product before clicking on the buy button. Prices of products, especially electronics, fall within a few months of launch. Many websites, however, give discounts on the original maximum retail price. A simple solution is to compare the price on a site like Junglee.com. Or, check out the price at your neighbourhood store. You may get a better deal there, especially if you go for an exchange offer. Also, find out about the site's business model. Is it an e-retailer, where the site is the seller, or a trading platform such as ebay, where the site is just a middleman? In the latter, the guarantee comes from the seller and not the website facilitating the transaction. Similarly, complaints will have to be resolved with the seller, not the site that lists the product.

COOKIE CATCH
Have you ever wondered how e-commerce sites show you previous searches when you visit later? Websites use cookies and other technology such as pixel tags and clear gifs to capture information to track shopping habits. Some of these cookies are saved on your system and are used to send advertisement banners and mailers, both by the site and third-party sites with which the information was shared. You can opt out of this by changing your browser settings to not accept cookies. However, this usually means a poor shopping experience as disabling cookies may make parts of the site inaccessible. The middle path is to clear your browsing history daily.

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