Once again I find myself answering the many issues that readers have regarding Internet security, or more accurately the apparent lack of it. To recap, so far we have covered the topics of children accessing inappropriate material over the Internet and the possibility of virus infection though the means of file downloads and e-mail attachments. This week we will be looking at the questions surrounding using your credit or debit card to order goods and services online.

When you consider the fact that there are an estimated 350 million people on the Internet all able to order goods by credit card it makes you wonder how we can be sure that the credit card number that we send will reach the right person at the end of the line and also, even if it does reach the person intended, will they deliver the goods?

The former part of this concern is the easiest to address, all transactions you conduct over the Internet should be encrypted as therefore no one can view them asides from yourself and the other party you are dealing with. To check to see if the site you are ordering from is encrypted, look in the bottom right hand corner of your browser and you should see either a small key or padlock icon if the page is encrypted. If you don’t see this icon then I would be tempted to avoid ordering from that particular site because although the chance is remote, somebody may be able to grab your credit card details in transit.

Without going into great detail, when active, the encryption technology used in today’s browsers is extremely secure and the possibility of anybody cracking the code is so remote that it isn’t worth considering in a practical environment, having said that, some of the older encryption technology is fairly simple to crack and so it is best to ensure that you always have the most up to date encryption available for your Internet browser. This is done by checking the site relevant to the program that you use, most probably either Netscape Navigator (www.netscape.com) or Internet Explorer (www.microsoft.com/ie)

The other side of the argument, will the recipient of your credit card information actually deliver the goods is the most tricky one to answer. The turnover of Internet based companies coming and going tends to be very high, especially in the present day of dot-com failures and there is a limited amount that you can do to recall your money if the company you order off is to be liquidated. One thing that you can do to protect yourself is to pay by credit card rather than debit card and so any money that may be taken off your card before the company liquidates could possibly be compensated by the issuing bank in a number of circumstances.

Even though we’ve established that fundamentally ordering over the Internet is safe, what actually are the advantages of buying online as opposed to ordering over the phone or going to a shop? Obviously the answer to this question varies from company to company, but a great many companies provide a number of additional services to online customers, for example free delivery, current stock level checking and extremely good order tracking information.

In addition, when buying specialist material such as music CD’s, it is often possible to listen to a sample of the album you are about to buy or follow a link so that you can read a review from an independent site. Certain items also have pictures or 3D models of the product that you can view, in the case of clothing for example. Buying holidays online is another good use of the Internet over the traditional travel agent; you can check ferry, train and flight times for either the home trip or when you arrive at your destination. All this can be done for the price of a local call or alternatively book a holiday at the last minute to make a possible saving of hundreds; a popular site for late bookings is lastminute.com (www.lastminute.com).

The main deciding factor however is the sheer convenience of shopping online; you don’t have to worry about parking, doing your hair or the weather outside, there is no salesman and no queues and so when you browse an Internet shopping area you are completely free to browse at your leisure and when you are ready to buy you simply checkout and log off. Your goods will arrive a couple of days later, the only inconvenience comes if the courier happens to damage the product which results in a trip to the post office to return said item.

At the end of the day, as illustrated above shopping online is secure, fast, easy and as long as a couple of guidelines are followed you should have no problems. Whether you have the know how to place an order online or are still not convinced by the technology that is available to protect you is a matter of personal ability and viewpoint.
Whatever your views, the ability to order products online is a revolution that started in the 1990’s and I firmly believe that over the forthcoming years it will continue to improve and make our shopping experience easier and therefore it is a technology that I urge you to investigate and learn how to use for any of those rainy days ahead.

Sponsered by Refresh Cartridges