Ways to shop smarter and safer online

SALT LAKE CITY – As people across the country gear up for one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year, the Utah Department of Commerce and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection want you to shop safer and smarter online.

Both state agencies put together a list of ways you can avoid falling victim to scammers and hackers.

Beware of rogue public Wi-Fi spots

Fraudsters often set up shop at popular public Wi-Fi locations and promote “free” Wi-Fi connections to entice consumers to connect their devices. Before you connect to any Wi-Fi hotspot, you should make sure the connection is password protected and don’t enter personal or credit card information while on it. This prevents cybercriminals from saving your information and using it, even after you’ve disconnected from the network.

Don’t send cash or wire money for payment

Don’t wire any money via Western Union, Money Gram, or any other wire service for online purchases. You may be handing over your money to scammers and never get the item you think you ordered. The Department of Commerce recommends paying by credit card to protect your purchases. You can always dispute the charge with your credit card company later.

Compare prices, look out for phantom websites

Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions. If you buying an item from websites such as eBay or Etsy, be sure to use a trusted payment service like PayPal or your credit card to protect your funds if you need to file a dispute with the seller.

Avoid counterfeit products

Carefully look at the products you want to buy for signs of missing information, broken or missing safety seals, different or incomplete packaging, and subtle or obvious changes to a company logo. If they show any of these signs, chances are they are fakes.

Make sure apps are downloaded from a trusted source

Only use apps from the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for different permissions. Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense, for example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list?

Only enter payment information on secure sites

Do not email financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you want to buy something online, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browsers status bar, or a URL address that includes an “s” after “http”. This lets you know it’s a secure site.

Save your receipts in a secure place

Print and save records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, and emails in case you need to return a gift after the holidays.

Review the refund and return policy before you buy something

Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund before you complete the transaction. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item and if the company charges a “restocking” fee back to the consumer.

Consider using coupons from legitimate sources

Some companies offer discounts via email, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”

Read the reviews

Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. Don’t put all of your trust in one review either because a columnist may have been paid to review the product which may push them to leave a good review.

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