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Ask the Expert

Online Shopping

Doug Terwilliger


Online sales in 2006 exceeded the $100 billion mark, according to online traffic tabulator comScore Networks. Clearly, there are benefits to shopping online.

 To begin with, the Internet is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there are great bargains to be had.

 But what about safety? If you take the right steps, shopping on the Internet can be just as safe as in brick-and-mortar stores or by mail order. The Federal Citizen Information Center offers the following tips to keep you safe as you shop in cyberspace.

Use a secure browser. Make sure your browser—the software you use to navigate the Internet, which probably came installed on your computer—complies with industry security standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Electronic Transaction (SET). These standards encrypt or scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transaction.

Secure browsers often display a symbol such as a broken key that becomes whole or a lock that closes, typically at the bottom of the computer screen. Your browser software or manual’s “Help” section should describe online security features.

Contact the software company if the “Help” section does not allay your fears. You may have to update your browser to the latest version if a security detection feature is missing.

Shop with companies you know. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you’re not familiar with a merchant, ask for a paper catalogue or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Determine the company’s refund and return policies before you place your order. Also, read their online privacy policy about how your information is kept and shared.

Keep your password(s) private. Be creative when you establish a password and never give it to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date, or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead, use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Pay by credit or charge card. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating them.

In the case of unauthorized use of a consumer’s credit or charge card, consumers are generally held liable only for the first $50 in charges. Some cards may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits.

Keep a record. Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. Also, you should know that the federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers orders made via the Internet. This means that unless stated otherwise, merchandise must be delivered within 30 days, and if there are delays, the company must notify you.

It’s New: NEA Click & Save

For many years NEA Member Benefits has offered members valuable discount programs. Now, NEA Click & Save provides online shopping discounts at a number of local and national retailers for NEA members and their families.

Unlike other discount aggregate providers, NEA Click & Save sends e-mail reminders that are tailored specifically to each member (based on the user’s online profile). NEA members save time and money, receiving offers only from companies they are interested in.

Go to to start saving!

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