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Online Shopping

Students will learn techniques to become smarter online consumers, protect their personal data, and assess various shopping platforms.

Students will analyze various online shopping platforms, describe how to make safe online purchases, and identify false or planted customer reviews.

Pre-Quiz Online Shopping

Test your knowledge of online shopping terms.

Clara just watched the presentation for the newest iPhone on her laptop. Her current smartphone is “so last year,” so she knows she has to get this one. Because the lines at the local store will be long, she’d rather buy the phone from the comfort of her bedroom and get it delivered quickly. Clara visits Apple’s online store and orders her new phone faster than it would take to find her car keys.

Today, you can buy just about anything online. But how can you be sure you know what you’re buying and whether your personal information is secure?

Fast Facts

– Online purchases accounted for $97.3 billion in sales in the second quarter of 2016, according to the US Chamber of Commerce.
– A 2014 government survey found 39 percent of mobile pay users purchased a product on their phones within the previous 12 months.
– Amazon’s self-created holiday, Prime Day, saw sales between $500-$600 million in a single day in July 2016.
– Roughly 31 million Americans were victims of credit card theft in 2014.
– Online fraud typically occurs during 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when most victims are sleeping.
– Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are two of the year’s biggest days for identity theft, soaring more than 200 percent above the average rate of fraud reports.

Know Your Store

When shopping online, make sure you shop at trusted sites so your information is secure. It is equally important to read reviews from people who have used the sites you shop. But beware of fake reviews. Users are often paid or given free products in exchange for a glowing review. Do your homework to check a site’s reliability.

– Look for verified seals of approval from the Better Business Bureau. Verisign, TRUSTe, or other companies that offer seal-of-approval programs.

– Look for a physical address and phone number. Some online shops don’t have a brick-and-mortar address, but they should offer contact information (a phone number and email address, at minimum) regardless. If you can’t contact them, shop elsewhere.

– Take extra care when shopping international websites. A language barrier, shipping time frame, or other issues could pose challenges or delay your order.

– Browse using a secure Wi-Fi connection. If you can’t use cellular data, and must access websites using a Wi-Fi hotspot, take steps to protect yourself. Turn off sharing, enable your firewall, and use HTTPS and SSL whenever possible.

– Because public connections allow multiple users to log onto the Internet at once, your device and private data might be viewable by others unless you take steps to protect yourself.

– Let your bank monitor your shopping. Sign up for your bank’s alerts via text or email. Your bank will notify you of unusual purchases or activity.

– Don’t save your credit or debit card information on a website.

– Use more secure payment methods:
– A mobile wallet – a digital version of your bank account used in conjunction with a smartphone app. Mobile pay reduces the need to carry a physical bank card and keeps your information more secure.

– Online escrow services like PayPal – this online service allows users to input their banking or credit card information securely so it can be used on multiple websites and platforms. Your financial information is not visible to merchants, and this service is accepted by thousands of online retailers.

– Review the online store’s privacy and security policy. It will tell you whether the business will share your information with its affiliates. It should specify the business’s opt-in and opt-out policies. Check to see what information a site stores and if the information is encrypted.

There’s an App for That!

Want to shop on the go? There are thousands of online stores with apps or websites that make buying products or services as easy as a few taps on your smartphone. Shop smart and follow these tips to avoid fraud:

– Consider the source. Shop stores with dedicated apps that can be easily downloaded from an app store.

Update application software when prompted for the latest version. New software versions include security patches and other updates to keep your shopping experience hassle-free.

Don’t save your credit card number in an app. If the app is bogus or your account is hacked, your credit card number could be stolen.

Get an e-receipt. Keep a digital copy of your purchase in case there are issues with the app or your order. Most apps send digital receipts via email, so information about your information about your order is easily accessible.

Keep a constant eye on your bank account. Many banks offer free apps that link to your account. Not only can you track your spending, but you can also receive alerts if unusual charges are incurred.

Your Digital Trail’s Invisible Followers

No matter with whom you do business, safeguard your personal information to deter potential identity theft. When you shop online, look for https or a closed lock icon in the address bar – both indicate that the site is taking measures to protect your private information. If you do not see these security icons, do not shop there! Without a secure shopping site, you may set yourself (and your bank account) up for a draining recovery.

Stores use “cookies” to monitor the time spent at their sites and what items you viewed. Internet cookies are bits of encoded information saved every time you visit a website and offer some benefits, such as allowing pages to load faster or saving items in an online shopping cart before you purchase them. Cookies also leave a trail of your online activity; this information is used to later target you with ads specific to your browsing history and interests. Although your personal information is not technically being collected, a lot of marketing information is pulled from your online behavior. The ads that pop up before you can read a story or view a video are often based on your browsing history. Most Web browsers have add-ons or programs installed on your browser’s toolbar to do this. Consider downloading ad-blocking plugins to see fewer ads. Protect yourself and your personal information by disabling or preventing certain websites from tracking you or storing cookies. You can usually do this in your browser’s settings.

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

You’ve likely heard the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” For example, how can you be sure that the glowing online review you read is from a real customer? Be cautious and remember to:

– Gauge the accuracy of online reviews by using websites specifically designed to track fake ones. Sites like track keywords that appear in reviews to try to determine their legitimacy.

Keep an eye out for “dummy” accounts that post fake but highly-rated product reviews. These users typically post a lot of photos and text to make their reviews look convincing. Check the user’s review history because dummy accounts often post multiple reviews in a short time span.

Sometimes real people are paid or gifted merchandise if they post carefully-staged product photos on social media with eye-catching hashtags. Legally, the FTC requires users to disclose if they are reviewing a product sent to them for free.

Rely on your educated guess. If a product or website has 5-star reviews and not a speck of criticism from shoppers, perhaps it’s best to steer clear. Consider this: if you asked 10 people to give you their opinion on today’s weather, you’d likely hear 10 different reviews. The same is true for products or websites.

Use independent review sites such as Consumer Reports for unbiased, researched opinions.

 Alert the Complaint Department

According to the Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, a retailer must ship an item in the time promised or within 30 days if no timeframe is given. If the items cannot be shipped in this time, you should be given an “option notice” that allows you to cancel the order and receive a refund. However, if you have a problem or do not receive an item, contact the seller or business immediately. Have a copy of your receipt and order number. If the problem is not resolved, contact the headquarters for the company or site. A dispute with a third-party Amazon or eBay seller should be handled via their customer service department, if the issue isn’t resolved with the seller. Write down the name of the person you speak to and what they promised to do to correct the problem.

If the problem persists, write a complaint letter outlining the problem. If the situation is still not resolved, contact the Attorney General’s office, Better Business Bureau, or your local consumer protection office for assistance. If you shop international online stores and encounter a problem, visit Use this resource to find out how to resolve consumer complaints with businesses from other countries.

Online Shopping Game

Online Shopping Vocabulary Match-up

Are debit cards as safe to use as credit cards for online purchases?

No! Debit cards are covered under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act; they do not offer the same legal protections as a credit card. Protect yourself when using your debit card:

– All of the money in your bank account could be lost if you do not report unauthorized use within 60 days. Crooks can also incur debts on your behalf by using your overdraft protection.
– Report a lost card within two business days to limit your liability to $50 for any unauthorized use.
– If you do not report a lost card within two business days, you may be liable for up to $500 of
unauthorized charges on your card.
– If there are unauthorized charges that involved only your debit card number and not the actual card, you are only liable for transactions that occur after 60 days.
– Check with your bank to see if their policies offer additional protection. Some companies will voluntarily match the protections you have with a credit card, limiting your liability to $50 for unauthorized use.
– Always check your bank statements and report any suspicious activity as soon as possible.

What is a CVV number and what does it do?

Some online retailers require a CVV number or Card Verification Value, to complete a purchase. CVV numbers are a relatively new extra security feature on cards. This number is not the same as your PIN number. A CVV number acts as a digital signature, much like when you sign a receipt at the register, and helps deter fraud.

Depending on your card, the location of the three-digit (some CVVs contain four digits) number may be on the back under the signature box or on the front underneath the card number. If someone has your card information but lacks the CVV number, they cannot complete an online purchase at most retailers. As with all numbers related to your bank account, debit card, credit card, or PIN number, keep this information private and secure. Do not save it on your devices. Do not write these numbers down anywhere.

How do I know when my package will arrive?

Most retailers ship orders with a tracking number that allows customers to digitally follow their package’s “trail.” Ask the seller for information if you are not sure when you will receive your package. Delays due to weather, backorders, or holidays can extend the shipping time. Under FTC guidelines, sellers have 30 days to ship your order if a timeframe is not specified.

What is private browsing and is it safer to make purchases this way?

Most web browsers allow private browsing so that users may search without having their information or history saved. When using private browsers, logins and passwords usually do not auto-fill. Because there is no history of websites visited, making purchases in a private browser may be safer. This also depends upon the security of the Wi-Fi connection and whether the web browser is updated.

I’ve seen my favorite celebrity advertising a product on social media. They did not disclose whether or not it was an advertisement. How do I know if a reviewer or celebrity is giving me their honest opinion?

Paid reviews and videos clutter cyberspace, making it difficult to distinguish between advertisements and legitimate consumer opinions. As mandated by the FTC, all endorsements, celebrity or otherwise, must contain a disclosure statement letting viewers know whether they were compensated for the review or endorsement. Keep in mind that some posts may still be advertisements even if there is no disclosure statement. Truthfully, all opinions are subjective. Someone who is paid for a product review may not always give positive feedback. To get the most out of reviews, look for product or company reviews from a variety of sources.

Online Shopping PostQuiz

Test your knowledge of online shopping terms in this post-lesson.