By J’Nel Wright, GDOC editor
We love the convenience of shopping online. Experts estimate that 96 percent of us shop online because it saves time and helps us avoid crowds. And that can open up a whole new world of retail for older adults who face physical challenges. But it’s not without risks.
In her article for the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary referred to a survey published by the Cooperative Credit Union Association that found out of almost 2000 people surveyed, two-thirds of those who act as caregivers said a scammer tried to target their elderly relatives. “Nearly 22 percent of scam attempts were made via email or another online contact,” says Singletary.
Online shopping is a great resource for people of all ages. But when I venture into the virtual world of retail, here are three things that ensure I don’t lose my shorts in the process.
1. Use a Gift Card or Prepaid Card For Online Purchases.
Both VISA and MasterCard offer cards preloaded with a variety of denominations, making online shopping easy and risk-free since the buyer doesn’t have to input bank information to complete the transaction. When shopping, look for the padlock in the URL bar on your favorite e-commerce websites to ensure a secure site. “We should only shop on sites that take secure payment methods, such as credit cards and PayPal, as they likely give you buyer protection just in case there’s a dispute,” says Marc Saltzman of USA Today.
2. Know the source of your merchandise.
As online stores like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay expand their online marketplace platforms, the actual origin of a product may not be so clear. For example, when a recently purchased power pack arrived defective, I quickly discovered that my purchase was made using Walmart’s Marketplace, and not Walmart.com. This means I wasn’t protected by Walmart’s return or refund policies. Since the merchant never responded to my emails requesting a refund, I was stuck with a faulty device and $60 less money in my wallet.
New studies show this type of shady marketing along with selling counterfeit products is getting more popular with online sellers. For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tested 47 items purchased from third-party sellers by using popular consumer websites. After testing, 20 of those 47 items were considered counterfeit. And the risks range from clothing, health products, and tools to cosmetics, electronics, and household products.
Remember, sometimes the best deal posted online isn’t really the greatest deal. Make a note of the seller and the platform on which the item is being sold. For example, is the item being sold by Amazon or a lesser-known third-party seller? When you purchase an item directly from Walmart or Amazon, at least you know who to contact if something is wrong with the purchase.
3. Sign Up For Shipping Insurance
In most cases, a merchant will provide great customer service. But sometimes, a little extra insurance goes a long way in offering assistance. For a minimal fee, an online shipping insurance company will track the package to be sure it is delivered accurately and in good condition. With companies like Route, the company will even protect consumers against stolen items. “Merchants and major shipping carriers are not always liable for your packages,” said Evan Walker, founder, and CEO of Route, an online shipping insurance company. “You need shipping insurance to cover lost, damaged and stolen goods. That’s where we come in.” What was once a tedious process requiring time and paperwork is now a single click before confirming your online purchase. And it offers added comfort that should something happen to the package, the insurance company will work with the merchant to make things right.
There are few things that feel more empowering than shopping online. But that easy-as-Sunday-morning feeling can get heavy if you don’t take precautions. These three simple steps can ensure your online shopping experience is as secure and comfortable as the slippers you are wearing. And that’s a good feeling.
A version of this article was published by SilverSage Magazine.