Shopping Safely Online

Take a Few Easy Steps to Protect Yourself

Despite the benefits of buying items online—such as finding everything from a vintage board game to a new car—the process isn’t without its security risks. Among the thousands of consumer fraud complaints the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives every year, those dealing with online fraud consistently rank near the top of the list. Most of these complaints deal with sellers who fail to ship the item, send something of lesser value than advertised, or fail to disclose all relevant information about a product or terms of the sale.

As online purchasing becomes increasingly prevalent, so do the risks associated with it. But despite the potential threats, these sites can be a great resource for buying or selling. You can help ensure your transaction is safe from fraud.

  • Evaluate how soon you need to receive the item you're purchasing, and whether you can tolerate it being delivered late, or even not delivered. Many complaints about internet purchase fraud involve late shipments, no shipments, or shipments of products that aren't the same quality as advertised.
  • Whether you're a buyer or a seller, read each site's Terms of Use before using it for the first time — sites may charge fees, follow different rules, or offer different protections.
  • Carefully consider your method of payment. Learn what recourse you have if something goes wrong. Don't send cash, and don't use a money wiring service.
  • Don't reply to "phishing" emails: messages that look like they've been sent by an auction website or payment service and ask for your password or other personal information.
  • Know who you're dealing with. Avoid doing business with sellers you can't identify, especially those who try to lure you off the site with promises of a better deal. Confirm the seller's telephone number in case you have questions or problems.
  • Know exactly what you're buying. Read and print a copy of the seller's description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Save copies of all emails you send and receive from the auction site or seller, too.
If you do experience problems during an online transaction, and attempts to work it out directly with the seller are unsuccessful, you can file a complaint with: