Consumer Protection

Check for Trust Marks on Internet Sites Before You Buy

Reviewed by Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney
Beware of scammer websites.

Many shoppers make purchases online. So, of course, scammers have devised online schemes to trick you into divulging your personal information, like your credit card number. But there are several precautions you can take when shopping online to avoid getting scammed. Read on to learn more.

How to Identify Scammer Websites

Scam websites often display the (real) seals from certification organizations without authorization, or falsely claim to be certified by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). These seals can make you think you're buying from a secure site—but then you end up on the receiving end of identity theft. (To learn the recovery steps if your identity has already been stolen, see Nolo's article Stolen Identity? Take These Recovery Steps.)

Check Validity By Clicking on the Seal

When shopping online, look for the seals of trusted certification organizations and confirm that the use of the seal is legitimate by clicking on the seal. A confirmation page on the certifying organizations site should open. If nothing happens when you click on a trusted organization symbol, then it might be a fake.

Some scammers create fake confirmation pages, making it look like you're being redirected to a legitimate site. Always check the URL (the website address) to make sure you are on the website of the certifying organization. You can also go directly to the website of the certifying organization and look for their list of legitimate seal holders.

Purchase with a Credit Card

Always use a credit card or a secure payment service, like PayPal, when buying items online. Making purchases online with credit cards is the safest method of payment. If there are any unauthorized charges, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company. Also, if someone misuses your credit card number, but you still have the card, you're not liable for the unauthorized use.

Buy From Secure Websites

Most merchants use secure websites, where your personal information is encrypted or scrambled, so that it can't be easily intercepted.

Some online businesses give you the option of giving your credit card information over the phone, even though you're ordering online. There are several third-party payment sites to use, like PayPal, if you don't feel comfortable giving your information directly to the seller. Don't send your credit card number by email as opposed to a secure order form. Emails are not secure.

Secured Site Payment

Always look in the address box for the "s" in https:// and for the padlock symbol before paying. This means the site you're on is a secure one. In technical jargon, this is called a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

If there are any doubts about a site when using Internet Explorer, right-clicking anywhere on the page to select "Properties." This will let you see the real URL and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted. If using Firefox, click on "Tools" in the menu bar, then "Page Info."

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I know that I'm entering my credit card information on a secure site?
  • I ordered something online using a credit card and it never arrived, what can I do?
  • There is a charge on my monthly credit card statement for a purchase made from an online retailer that I didn't make, what can I do?

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