Tag Archives | online shopping

Testing out a website that you’re not sure of – some top tips

Earlier this week I wrote a post, Websites you can trust – what to watch out for?, about things to check out on a new website before dealing with them, and particularly before handing over any personal details.

While there were a lot of don’ts in the tips, there are a couple of things you could do if you’re still not 100% sure, but you’re keen on making a purchase from a website.

Here are a couple of things you could do – but remember, you’re taking a risk one way or the other – to reduce your potential exposure. It’s your call in the end.

If you’ve checked out all the suggestions I provided in my original post, but you’re still going to proceed, here are a few things you can do until you make sure the site is fully legitimate.

1.    Use different a e-mail addresses

You could set up a new free e-mail address to use with this website. Using this new e-mail address on only this site will make it easier to identify if they’ve sold your e-mail to other companies if you suddenly start getting spam.

2.    Provide the minimum amount of information

When completing forms where they’re gathering information, only fill in those with the red * which normally is the minimum they require. There’s no need to fill in any details that aren’t compulsory.

3.    Make sure your password is unique and different

Just in case you’re someone who uses the same password everywhere, when signing up to a site you’re not fully sure of, make sure you use a different password here. Just in case.

But of course, you should really change your passwords to make sure they’re different everywhere.

4.    Use a special credit card

My top tips above suggest that you have a special credit card to use when shopping online. This should have a low limit so that if it is compromised, that you’re only exposing yourself to a small loss (though your card provider should cover you anyway).

5.    Make only a small purchase in the beginning

If the company is unfamiliar or you’re still a little unsure, you could begin your relationship with them by submitting a small purchase to confirm that they can be trusted. If everything goes well, you get your product, and you’re happy with the service and security, then you could look at bigger orders.

6.    Give false details

Say you’re being asked for details that you know are unnecessary, but you can’t continue without providing it, make something up to fill the blanks and progress. If the information is stored on your profile and you eventually come to trust the site, you can always go in and update it later – but if it’s really unnecessary, then there’s no need.

I said in my original post that if there is ever any doubt in your mind, then stop and just cancel your actions. If you’re going ahead with the steps above on the basis of checking things out, remember that you’re taking a risk and just in case, be prepared for the consequences.

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Websites you can trust – what to watch out for?

In the past, I have compiled top tips to protect yourself when online – Avoid Online Scams, Protect your personal data, Avoid Financial Phishing, and Top Tips for Online Credit Card Security.

However, this top tips series will fill in some of the blanks not covered by the previous top tips – specifically, how can you check out a website to decide whether it can be trusted or not.

I’m putting these top tips together now due to the large number of new Irish consumer websites being set up at the moment, and particularly in light of the issues I’ve highlighted with some new consumer websites set up recently (here and here).

So, here are a few things to check out when deciding whether or not you can trust a website that you find interesting and would like to use:

1.    Find out who’s behind the website

Is it clear who is behind the website – are there the names of the people behind it, or the company name, available on the website? Don’t get involved with a website unless you’re sure that it’s real and you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

If it’s a company, then you should be provided with their company registration details. You can find out more about the company using the Company Registration Office website.

You could also check the website registration to see who’s behind the website – if it’s a .ie, you can go to www.whois.ie to get the website details. www.whois.com will give you similar information for .com and other types of websites, but it’s easier to hide who’s behind these kinds of websites.

2.    Find out what other people are saying about the website

Do a web search for the name of the website and the name of the company or people behind to see what other people are saying about them. You may find comments, positive or negative, which will help you decide to use the site, or not.

3.    Find out how you can contact the people behind the website

Check the Contact Us page, and the About Us page to see what contact details are provided. Are there e-mail addresses or phone numbers? Or is there just an anonymous Contact Form?

When checking for contact details, consider how you’d fare if you had a problem and you needed your money back, or needed to actually speak to someone about a problem. Enough details now?

It is an EU Regulation that contact details be provided on a business’ website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to contact them.

4.    Find out where the people behind the website are based

In addition to the above contact details, if you’re handing over personal information, or making purchases, from a website, you should consider what you’ll need to actually find the business.

Say, for example, you’re having no luck with a product you bought that doesn’t work and you want to submit a claim in the Small Claims Court.

Is there a physical address for the people behind the website available? Is the address sufficient that you could actually find the place if you had to?

One tip – if there is a company name on the website, you can check the Companies Office website above – there should be an address available there.

It is also an EU Regulation that a business’ premises address is  provided on their website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to find them.

5.    Is the website secure?

The top tips referred to above include information on how to check if a website secure – i.e. look for the gold lock symbol, or the https:// before the website address.

One thing you should also confirm is that following clicking on links around the site that when you do actually begin to provide personal details, are you still on the same website you originally visited, or have you been redirected to a different URL.

6.    Check the small print before handing over details

Before giving away any of your details, you should check for pages such as Terms & Conditions, Disclaimers and Notices. Are you happy with their contents – are there any conditions that you don’t understand, or that you find suspicious?

7.    Don’t hand over unnecessary information

When you’re filling in forms on websites you’re using, always bear in mind the reason that you’re at the website and whether or not the information you’re being asked for is suitable and relevant.

For example, if you’re buying some books online, would it be appropriate for someone to ask you for your bank account details or your PPS number?

Check the Privacy Policy on the site to see what they’re going to do with any information they’re asking for that you are actually willing to give.

8.    If in doubt, don’t

At any point, if you’re not sure about what’s happening or what you’re seeing in front of you, stop.

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Cookies aren’t always nice, especially shopping online

Cookies, for the purposes of this post, are bits of information that websites will leave on your computer when you visit so that they can recognise you when you come back next time (a longer definition is available here).

In early January, the Consumerist website had a very interesting article entitled “Save Money Shopping Online By Deleting Your Cookies“.

The thesis of the article was that certain websites will offer better deals to people visiting the website for the first time compared to offers they give to people who’ve been to the site before.

Therefore, before going online to go shopping you should delete your cookies so that sites don’t “recognise” you and you may get better value for money.

I have a feeling that some of our more well known Irish airline websites might utilise this type of trickery, but can’t confirm one way or the other.

Of course, it could be possible that some online sellers have taken this type of thing a step further. Every time you log onto a website your IP address is stored (basically, where you’re logging on from). Some IP addresses are just a series of numbers that don’t distinguish exactly where you are – they may say Dublin, or Galway. But others actually have your company name included in it – so, Intel or Microsoft or many of the worlds bigger companies have their name in their address. Surely it’s possible that online sellers can identify these companies and then charge more, or less, depending on where their customers are logging in from.

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Throw off the ‘rip-off’ yoke: go online for value

Irish Independent
Bill Tyson & Eddie Lennon, February 5th, 2004

The internet can prove a vital weapon in the war for better value, providing easily processed information and many cheaper deals at the touch of a button. Here’s a quick guide to the most useful sites.

THE main reason that Irish consumers are being ripped off is not just corporate greed.

It is because we are complicit in our own abuse. And so, in financial terms, we get what we deserve.

We are losing the war for better value, and will continue to lose if our new-found consumer awareness does not mature into action.

A classic example, borne out in repeated surveys in the Irish Independent, is buying CDs. In the shops, you can expect to pay up to €20, and sometimes even more, for a CD.

But at cdwow.ie, you can choose from a huge selection of CDs for just €16.95, including delivery.

Similarly, the plummeting dollar makes buying online from American-based websites such as amazon.com all the more attractive. You can also use the internet to get cheaper flights, not just with Ryanair but now with Aer Lingus too.

The latter came out cheaper than Ryanair recently when I sought quotes for a flight to London.

In the end, I chose Cityjet, again through the internet, because, while not the cheapest, it was close enough at €80 return and its host airport in London’s docklands is in the heart of the city.

Another useful online moneysaver is www.LAbrokers.ie (discounted life and mortgage protection cover).

And there are a host of websites where you can get cheap travel insurance instead of using your travel agent, whose prices are almost universally dearer (see Good Buys, left).

Their dominant position has not surprisingly led to higher pricing – and all too often the financially naive do not query it. The internet also offers some insightful overviews of how to get the bargains, and avoid the rip-offs, information that we really should ignore at our financial peril.

Askaboutmoney.com offers a truly impressive insight into dozens of areas where you can avoid being fleeced; and Ireland’s new consumer activity website www.valueireland.com similarly invites people to tell of their experiences about rip-offs and bargains in Ireland and submit review and value-conscious tips online.

New financial watchdog IFSRA provides surveys of car insurance and bank charges (with more surveys to come) as well as guides to your rights and many other products.

For investments, myadviser.ie has some good offers on occasion, but its main selling point is that it also offers personal advice, which is unusual in the often-impersonal world of dealing online.

The biggest bugbear with investments – and many other areas – is commission. Commission can pull the wool over your eyes because it is designed to just that.

You are quoted a low percentage that does not set off any alarm bells. Yet when a high capital sum is involved, it should.

For example, 3pc may not sound very much – but it amounts to €3,000 out of €100,000.

The commission-based system also compromises the quality of advice you are getting as many advisers are hardly going to recommend providers who pay little or no commission, such as the EBS range of Summit funds.

If you know what you want, the internet again offers the best way around this insidious system.

If web-based intermediaries can do enough business, they can afford to forego hefty commission in favour of reasonable fees in order to attract more business.

Take LAbrokers.ie, for example, using the example of a 35-year-old non-smoking female seeking mortgage protection insurance over 20 years.

LABrokers would charge just €11 in the first year because it refunds the commission it gets from the company it finds to be cheapest (Hibernian in this case). From then on, the premium would be €111 a year, which would still be the best around, so you win both ways.

Some of the best deals for investments can be also sourced through the internet. Many of the aforementioned websites often offer good “discount” deals – and even when they don’t flat fees beat commission almost all of the time.

Michael Kiernan of Myadviser.ie explains how commission works:

“Say you were investing €10,000 into your pension as a once-off lump sum payment. The sales person could tell you that you were getting 103pc allocation on your investment.”

“This would give you the impression that not only were you getting all of your money invested but your were also getting a bonus of 3pc on top – unfortunately that is not the case.

“What happens is your 103pc allocation is reduced to 98pc allocation to take account of the commission, in this case 5pc.

“Your allocation is then hit again by a charge called the ‘Bid Offer Spread’, usually 5pc, leaving only 93.1pc (98pc x 95pc) actually being invested, i.e. €9,310. The sales person gets €500 upfront for their efforts.

“Obviously the higher the lump sum, the higher the amount of commission, despite the fact that it usually takes the same effort to advise and execute a €10k pension as it does for a €100k, but in the latter case the commission is €5,000.

“That’s how you move from 103pc of ‘Sales Talk’ to the ‘Real World’ of 93.1pc.”

Myadviser offers an alternative to losing thousands in this way – a fee-based system calculated on how much advice you want that replaces the 5pc commission deal.

The fees range from €100 for customers who know what they want up to €700 for those in need of the full financial advice service – which is pretty cheap compared to the thousands you would have to pay on commission.

Deals from stockbrokers can also be compared online (for the cheapest offers on Irish share dealing check out www.sharewatch.com, which has a minimum fee of €30 and a very low commission rate of 0.3pc.)

Doing your actual dealing online can also save you money with the likes of www.scottrade.com, which charges as little as $7 a deal, or even www.davy.ie, whose online service is cheaper than its ‘real world’ offering.

Contrast this with the 1.5pc commission charged by most Irish stockbrokers.

You can also keep track of your shares and get a host of useful information through sites such as www.nasdaq.com and www.ise.ie (for Irish shares).

Consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before – all they have to do is ‘let their fingers do the walking’ across their keyboard.

Consumerism is about choice, and informed choice through the internet holds the greatest new weapon against the culture of the rip-off.

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