Watch Out For These Online Pitfalls

“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can.  You can train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.” <em>- Mary Hemingway</em>

An amusing story came out just recently…apparently, there’s consequences for not being on top of your taxes!

Turns out a restaurant owner in Texas got audited, and it was discovered that he owed about $40,000 in back taxes. OUCH! This particular entrepreneur decided to, oh, find a way around it…by offering the IRS agent *pizza*–and a job.

(Full story here: <a href=”http://www.webcpa.com/news/IRS-Agent-Refuses-Pizza-Bribe-50595-1.html”>http://www.webcpa.com/news/IRS-Agent-Refuses-Pizza-Bribe-50595-1.html</a>)

Two lessons to take from this one:

1) Pizza may not be the best form of bribery

2) <strong>Always let a professional handle your books!</strong> (personal and ESPECIALLY business)

Sure, that’s a bit self-serving…but come on–pizza? 🙂

Moving on, another recent story points to a rising problem for our government–revenues are down. (<a href=”http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2009-05-26-irs-tax-revenue-down_N.htm”>http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2009-05-26-irs-tax-revenue-down_N.htm</a>) Which means, for you, that the IRS will be paying extra careful attention to every aspect of your return. Audits will surely rise, including for previous year returns.

In this week’s Personal Strategy Note, I’ve got some pointers for you about safe shopping online. In this economy, more and more families are checking for deals online. So, use these guidelines to ensure you do it right!

“Real World” Personal Strategy

How To Make Sure You Shop Safely Online (9 Ways)

Shopping online can be convenient and help you find great prices on exactly the item you’re hoping to buy.  However, shopping online can also allow your personal information to be spread places that you didn’t plan it to go.  These ten tips can help make sure your identity and information remains safe:

   1. Keep <strong>your computer’s anti-virus, anti-virus and firewall software up to date.</strong>  Use pop-up blockers to make shopping easier and also protect you from fraudulent sites that look like they are part of the legitimate site you are shopping.

   2. <strong>Stick with familiar sellers.</strong> If using a company you don’t know, check for the Better Business Bureau Online or TRUSTe logo. Check online ratings companies such as <a href=”http://www.epinions.com/”>http://www.epinions.com/</a>  or <a href=”http://www.bizrate.com/”>http://www.bizrate.com/</a>  to hear about other customers’ experiences.  Look for a street address and working telephone number.  If using an auction site, check the seller’s feedback rating.

   3. <strong>Use a complicated password.</strong> Think up some way to remember them or keep them listed somewhere safe and away from your computer.   Use a variety of numbers and letters, including both lower case and capitals.

   4. <strong>Check policies and terms carefully before purchasing.</strong> Look especially for shipping and handling fees and return fees and procedures.

   5. <strong>When giving out personal information, look for the “https” or “shttp” at the beginning of the website address. </strong> The “s” means secure.  You can also look for the closed lock or unbroken key symbol at the bottom of your page.  (The site probably won’t go to secure until the ordering page, so don’t be worried if it is a regular http address while you are shopping.)  Don’t send payment information through email as it is not secure.

   6. <strong>Be aware that</strong> <strong>personal information is collected every time you fill out a form online. </strong> If a site looks sketchy, don’t do business with them.  Never enter personal information in a pop-up window or screen.

   7. <strong>Pay carefully.</strong> Under federal law, credit cards allow you to dispute payment if you don’t receive what you’ve ordered, however, they also share your credit card details with the merchant.  Services such as PayPay and Revolution Money keep your personal payment information private, but they offer less ability to dispute payments if something is wrong with the order.  Debit cards and checks offer the least protection.  Many sites try to retain your credit card information for future purchases – think carefully about whether this is something you want to do.  Some credit card companies offer “virtual” credit card numbers, which are one time use numbers that are linked to your real credit card number.

   8. <strong>Keep a printed copy of your order, </strong>and hold on to it until after you are sure that everything is OK with the purchase.

   9. Keep <strong>an eye on your bank and credit card statements.</strong> Dispute unknown or unauthorized transactions immediately.

To smart shopping…and keeping your family safe!

Kathy BylkasWatch Out For These Online Pitfalls