Online shoppers should ‘click’ with caution

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Computers have made the world smaller. Nearly any product in the world consumers want to buy is — literally — at their fingertips.

Online shopping is growing rapidly. For example, the amount of purchases by U.S. consumers on the largest single online shopping day — Cyber Monday (the Monday after Black Friday) — has increased from about $600 million in 2007 to $1.5 billion in 2012. Everyday online shopping, which takes place around the clock, is growing just as fast.

This Christmas shopping season could be even busier as retailers entice shoppers with discounts.

Now, do be clear, we aren’t promoting online shopping. Our preference would be for consumers to think local first. The brick-and-mortar merchants have plenty of inventory as well as sales. Shopping locally keeps dollars in the community, and benefits us all.

Still, there are many things that just can’t be purchased in town (or even in the state or country).

The fact is online shopping has become commonplace. Most folks find it a snap to order. Nevertheless, be careful. Let’s not forget that these are business transactions with people you have never met and never will.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office urged consumers to “click” (buy) with caution. It’s sound advice.

“Trust, but verify.” That’s the approach President Ronald Reagan pitched in the midst of the Cold War, but it also applies to modern shopping.

Following are a few of the tips offered by the Attorney General’s Office:

• Make sure your computer has the most recent updates for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

• Read the site’s privacy policy to understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If the site doesn’t offer those details, your personal information could be sold without permission.

• Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails often sound too good to be true for a reason. They are most likely scams.

• Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with your account and then seeking financial information. Do not reply to the email!

• Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying.

• Pay with credit cards whenever possible. It’s easier to contest the charge if products are defective or misrepresented.

• Understand the merchant's policies on shipping fees and returns.

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