Smart Tips

By EW Staff
Updated November 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

The Internet didn’t spawn deception and crime; it just created new outlets. Follow the tips below and you’ll have the spirit of Ralph Nader by your cyberside.

1 Do Your Homework

Not comfortable sending money to ”Zeke’s XPert ‘Puter Shoppe”? Get the phone number, call the sales staff, ask about the return policies and shipping and handling fees (they add up), or see how fast they respond via e-mail. Don’t believe online bargains; check out real-world prices, too. Still not sure about a place? Shop somewhere else.

2 Shop Secure

Shopping always involves you and a seller, so make sure that both ends of the transaction promise security. If a site is operating in ”secure mode,” the padlock icon in the bottom left corner of your browser will be closed (usually it’s open). Sites like CDnow let you switch from one mode to the other with just a click.

3 Pay By Credit Card

It’s not only faster than whipping out a checkbook, it’s safer. That’s right, sending credit card data online these days is often more secure than reading numbers to a telephone operator. Plus, you can take up fraudulent transactions with your credit card company.

4 Track Everything

A quick cut and paste of transaction information is all you need to protect yourself if things go awry. Include the day and time of purchase, names of items, prices, confirmation numbers, estimation of how long it will take them to send the goods, etc. Or print the last page of your sale, which often contains this data. When it’s time to complain, God forbid, you’ve got the ammo.