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Common Cents departments
Nov/Dec 2012 Issue

Online shopping requires precautions for your safety

An increasing number of consumers are turning to online shopping, especially during the holidays, making it more important than ever to take steps to avoid being cheated by clever scam artists, AAA cautions.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation last year, about 36 percent of all holiday shopping tasks–including checking prices, researching, and buying products–happen online during the holidays. While consumers can buy nearly any product online from the safety of their home, online shopping isn’t entirely safe. It requires the same level of precaution that you use when you’re shopping at a store. AAA advises shoppers to follow these simple steps to protect themselves.

  • Shop at secure Web sites, those that have a Secure Socket Layer, or SSL, which uses encryption to scramble the information you send. Look for an “s” displayed after “http” in the address bar, which indicates the site is secure. You may not see the “s” until you move to the order page.

    Another way to determine if you are on a secure site is to look for a closed padlock or an unbroken key symbol.

  • Review the merchant’s data security practices, which are often explained in a Privacy Policy or Security Policy. Look for online merchants that are members of programs such as Verisign (, TRUSTe (, or BBBonline (

  • Shop from home because public networks expose your shopping to online dangers, including the use of key logger software that captures your login information and credit card number.

  • Use a credit card when shopping online because you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, and you have the right to dispute charges on your credit card and withhold payment during a creditor investigation. Do not use a debit card, which is not as well protected.

  • Print and save copies of your orders, and check your credit card statement carefully. Identity thieves often make a low-dollar “test charge” to see if the card works–and then strike weeks later.
online shopping


Give the gift that always fits: gift cards

Clothes are the No. 1 holiday gift purchase, followed by gift cards and electronics, which is great if you’re certain about the style, size, and color of the clothing to buy for those on your list.

But if you’re not so confident about purchasing clothes for everyone on your list, then consider a Visa Gift Card. Select the amount–between $10 and $500–and you give the freedom to shop at millions of merchants that accept Visa.

Research by the TowerGroup projects gift cards are the most-wanted gift among women and rank third with men. Perhaps their popularity is tied to the flexibility of shopping at millions of merchants that accept Visa. The cards are easy to use in their favorite store, online, or through a catalog. Since it’s protected by Visa, once registered by the recipient, the gift card can be replaced if lost or stolen.

Visit to learn more about purchasing Visa Gift Cards for a low fee. Or call (866) 674-9622 or visit your local AAA office.


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