Protect Yourself

Fraud Tutorial

Police Blotter
Avoiding Fraud
Tips for Avoiding Online Fraud
Additional Resources

Avoiding Fraud

Consumers should take obvious measures to protect themselves in conventional stores, for example:

  • Not leaving a purse in an unguarded shopping cart
  • Protecting their PIN (personal identification number) at checkout
  • Not carrying large amounts of cash in their wallets

Online shoppers should also consider sensible precautions, which is the focus of this tutorial.


Tips for Avoiding Online Fraud

Here are some suggestions to help you avoid becoming a victim of online fraud:

  • Learn as much as possible about the product and seller
  • Use a secure checkout and payment process
  • Use credit vs. debit or check
  • Understand the retailers' refund and return policies
  • If an offer sounds highly suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is

Learn as Much as Possible About the Product and Seller

Shoppers who are familiar with the merchants from whom they're buying feel the most secure if they have had a good shopping experience history with that seller. But what about retailers that you haven't used?

The Internet is a great way to find detailed information about retailers prior to doing business with them. Researching reviews and comments left by other shoppers about retailers and their products empowers you to make informed decisions prior to making a purchase.

Tip: Use your favorite search engine to research merchants or products, rather than going directly to the retailer's site.

Use a Secure Checkout and Payment Process

When it comes to choosing which method to use for online payments, take precautions before entering credit card or checking account information.

The likelihood of your sensitive information being compromised increases each time you provide it to a new vendor. A safe and easy-to-use online payment service such as PayPal allows you to enter account information only once at a highly secure and reputable site.

The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site:

  • https:// The "s" that is displayed after "http" indicates that web site is secure. Often, you do not see the "s" until you actually move to the order page on the web site.
  • A closed padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.

Important: The lock icon is not just a picture! Click (or double-click) on the padlock to see details of the site's security. This is important to know because some fraudulent web sites are built with a bar at the bottom of the web page to imitate the lock icon of your browser!

Use a Credit Card

E-commerce shopping by check or money order leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud. The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card.

Make sure your credit card is a credit card only and not a debit card, or a check card. As with checks, a debit card exposes your bank account to thieves. Your checking account could be wiped out in minutes. Further, debit cards are not protected to the extent that credit cards are by federal law.

Tip: You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. Please contact your credit card provider for more details.

Understand the Retailers' Refund and Return Policies

Look for and ask about the refund and return policy.

Questions to ask include:

  • What is the required timeframe in which a buyer must contact the retailer and return the item?
  • Whether a full refund or a merchandise credit will be offered?
  • Whether an item that has been opened can be returned?

If no refund policy exists, look into buyer protection programs which might be offered by the retailer or your payment service provider.

These protection programs ensure that if there is a problem with a transaction, your payment will be covered or refunded as a result.

If it's too Good to be True, it Probably is

As with any purchase, be sure to read the fine print (or, in some instances, click the links describing the purchase agreement.)

While Internet retailers frequently offer lower prices than conventional stores, be wary of unreasonably low bargain prices or unusually attractive promises.

The old adage is true: "If it's too good to be true, it probably is!"


Additional Resources

Here are a few web sites that provide additional information about shopping online:



We hope that you've found this tutorial helpful and you've learned that you can greatly reduce your chances of falling victim to fraud by staying informed.


MS Essentials
Norton Trial