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Online spending in the United States is expected to hit $370 billion by 2017, up from $262 billion in 2013, according to Forrester Research.
Consumers were most likely to shop for books, stationery or office supplies, followed by apparel and consumer electronics, based on an NPD Group study.
If you don’t buy from a well-known company, or one with which you’ve already done business, take some precautions to ensure you can be confident of a reliable transaction. Be sure the company lists an address and phone number. Try calling the customer service number to get answers to any questions that may concern you, such as how the company handles returns, refunds and consumer complaints.
You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or your state or local consumer affairs department to see if other purchasers have filed complaints.
Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or social media sites, even if they purport to be from trustworthy retailers, because they may take you to sites that are trying to collect information for identity theft. Instead, type the organization’s website address into your browser’s address bar or find it through a search.
Never divulge personal information—including your credit card or bank account number or your Social Security number—in response to an advertisement or email.
You can get a lot of clues about security simply by checking the company’s website address. For example, look for URLs that begin with https rather than http, because the added s indicates it is a secure website.
Check also for a padlock icon in the address bar to show the site uses encryption to ensure security, and click on the lock to learn the details. Review the retailer’s privacy policies, as well, to find out if they are designed to protect your credit card information or other confidential data.
Charging the transaction allows you to dispute the purchase if it doesn’t arrive or doesn’t live up to expectations. At the same time, because identity theft—including the unauthorized use of credit card numbers—is growing, be sure to review your credit card statements regularly and contact the credit card issuer if you find anything that shouldn’t be on your bill.
Finally, the online retailer should provide you with a receipt for your purchase when it’s completed, with an order or confirmation number. Print the receipt and hold on to it until you receive the product or service so that you have proof of the purchase if you need it.
CPAs can offer advice to help you make smart spending decisions and keep your finances on track. Turn to your local CPA with all your financial questions.
Copyright 2013 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.