Online ordering brings

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2000

consumer security concerns


Managing Editor

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This year, retail traffic on the Internet is higher than ever before, and a local Internet service provider has reported that more and more of its growing customer base is becoming comfortable with the concept of online shopping.

But, he said, online shopping brings risk that people should understand.

"There are safety concerns that come from shopping online," said Tim Catrett, technical support technician for Troy Cablevision, a local cable company and ISP. "People need to be careful and make sure they are prepared to safely shop online to prevent their private information from being read or intercepted in transit."

The best advice Catrett gives is for users to take advantage of newer technology.

"People should always seek to use the latest version of the browser they prefer when they shop online," he said. "As technology advances, the browsers become more and more secure and the data is safer."

Another key piece of advice he gives online shoppers is to be sure that they are doing business with reputable people.

"I think people should always know who they are dealing with, and when buying from auction sites, using an escrow account to handle the financial transaction will also improve safety."

An escrow account, Catrett said, can be established with a number of online companies who, for example, take the customer’s payment for merchandise to a third party. Once the customer receives the merchandise and approves of it – or a specified number of days pass – the escrow service sends the payment to the third party.

"This usually involves a small fee, but it’s generally very reasonable considering the level of protection this provides the customer," Catrett said.

But many online retailers don’t use escrow services and only accept credit or debit card payments for merchandise.

When dealing with these online merchants, Troy Police Department public information officer Sgt. Benny Scarbrough recommends that customers do some research to make sure the merchant has a good reputation.

"We haven’t seen a high number of complaints about online fraud that I am aware of," Scarbrough said. "But just like giving credit card numbers out over the phone can be dangerous, so can giving out credit information online."

Scarbrough said retailers who don’t have a reputation behind them – or those that have bad reputations – should be avoided.

"One thing is for sure," he said. "Every company has a reputation, whether it’s good or bad. People should look into this and be aware of who it is with which they do business."

Scarbrough said investigation and inquiry are the keys to online ordering.

"Doing business with companies that you may have dealt with over the phone in the past with good success may be OK," he said. "But the customer will have to use common sense to make that determination. They need to know who they are dealing with, what the business’s reputation is and what others may have to say. It’s very important to be cautious."

Catrett agrees that this precaution coupled with good technology that will keep information safe and the use of escrow accounts when dealing with individuals or auction companies will go a long way toward helping a customer protect his or her investment.

"Use a good browser equipped with the latest encryption technology, like Internet Explorer 5.0 or 5.1 or the latest version or Netscape and use good sense and care and you should be OK," Catrett said.