In 2004, online consumer spending was at a record $65.1 billion. More and more people are attracted to the ease of online shopping and are spending higher amounts. Unfortunately, the chances of becoming a victim of Internet fraud are also increasing. The Internet National Fraud Center Watch reported that the average loss to fraud victims for just the first six months of 2005 was $2,579. This is compared to the $895 average for all of 2004. Complaints relating to general merchandise purchases (goods never received or misrepresented) accounted for 30% of Internet fraud complaints, and auction purchases (goods never received or misrepresented) topped the list at 44%.

While many e-commerce Websites are reputable and have taken the necessary safety precautions to protect you, it never hurts to always proceed cautiously. If you are making an online purchase consider these easy steps:

1. Use only one credit card, preferably with a low credit limit, when making online purchases. Avoid using an ATM or debit card.

2. Be wary of unsolicited offers by sellers. The Internet National Fraud Information Center Watch reported that email, as a method of contact by Internet scammers was up 22% in 2004.While the offer may be legitimate, spammers like to use this tactic to side-step reputable sites that provide consumer protection for online purchases.

3. Use only reputable e-commerce websites that list a street address and telephone number in case you need to contact them directly.

4. Read the website’s privacy policy. Some websites may reserve the right to sell/give your information to a third party. Check the document to see if they allow an opportunity to “opt-out” of receiving special offers from third-party vendors or for permission to share your personal information.

5. Check for a lock symbol in the status bar at the bottom of your Web browser window. Also, do not provide your personal information if the website address doesn’t start with “https” (a sign that the site is using a secure server).

6. Choose only verified sellers. Check to see if the vendor is a verified member of a reputable third party such as the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign, or Guardian eCommerce. These third-party sites help to ensure online consumers will be protected when shopping or conducting e-commerce transactions.

7. Check that the delivery date posted is reasonable. If you have not dealt with the vendor on a regular basis, be wary of any Website that states the shipment will be delayed 20 or more days. Delivery dates of 7-10 days are more common.

8. Keep a paper trail of all online transactions. Print out a hard copy of the transaction and keep it in a file for future reference.

9. Be wary of website offers that just sound too good to be true. The Internet is littered with get rich quick scams and false advertising claims. Investigate all claims thoroughly before proceeding.

10. If you do not receive what you paid for, and the vendor will not return your emails or calls, contact your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs for further assistance.

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