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Product Reviews, 13 Payment Tips and Others to Ensure You Shop Safely Online

This post is divided into two main parts: How to read a product review that helps you make safe purchases online and how to stay safe when paying online. There’s even a bonus section which gives you extra safety advice.

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You love online shopping, don’t you?

You’re not the only one. Many other people adore it too. Why not when there are so many benefits to online shopping.

You can shop in your pajamas. You wouldn’t have to leave your house. There’ll be no traffic to fight to drive to the mall and circle the parking lot. Online stores are open around the clock. Product selection is huge, including items sold outside of your country. Comparing prices between multiple retailers to find a bargain and save money is a breeze. You can read both customer and professional reviews of products before you make your purchase. Products are shipped right to your door (and with Amazon Key, even dropped inside your door, too!). returns are easy, with the right e-tailers.

Unfortunately the beauty of shopping online is being offset by more and more unscrupulous people. They lurk online and use false pretenses to scam you out of your money or steal your card details.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center asserted that the number one cybercrime of 2017 was connected to online shopping. Things like non-payment for goods purchased, non-delivery of goods purchased, and phishing. This, according to the APWG’s Phishing Activity Trends Report, was at an all-time high during Q2 2018,.

And when the headlines are screaming with sensational hacking cases, such as the cyber-attack on Israel’s El Al airline and national stock exchange and the compromised information on online superstore Zappos, your immediate feeling might be to give up Internet shopping altogether.

But with almost everything being done on the internet now, you will be as successful as the Luddites who tried to block the coming of electricity to save their candle industries.

So instead of brushing aside this essential tool altogether, the best thing is to learn how to stay safe when shopping online. That is, to keep your information safe, especially while providing your personal information when shopping online.

We are going to offer you simple rules that you can follow to have a safe and secure online shopping and paying experience.

Now, let’s look at the first part of this post which answers the question: what are the tips to stay safe online while shopping?

A raised thumb against dialogue signs in multicolours to show product reviews
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A. How to Make the Best Use of Online Product and Service Reviews to Shop Safely Online

People have long counted on the advice and recommendations of others before making decisions, purchasing not excepted. And today there’s no dearth of customer ratings and reviews to help you decide if products or services you are considering buying are worth your hard-earned money.

Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson said in the study Online Shopping and E-Commerce that “Fully 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, including 40% who say they always or almost always do so.”

If you’re planning to buy a home entertainment system, follow an online course, or outsource a task, for example, you’re also probably going to check out online reviews of the products and services beforehand.

How often shoppers consult online reviews is also linked to their frequency of shopping online. According to the same Smith and Anderson study, about 67%, or two-thirds, of weekly online shoppers claim they hardly fail to read customer reviews before buying new items. For monthly online shoppers the figure was 54%.  Among those who shop less often online, it dropped to 38%.

“Overall, online shoppers are eight times more likely than those who never shop online to say they typically check online reviews before buying something for the first time (49% vs. 6%),” said the study.

Reading written online reviews is not the only way many Americans seek to shop safely online. 55% of U.S. adults say they have relied on product review videos online for their purchases.

Despite that figure, many Americans have reservations concerning the sincerity of online reviews posted on review sites. Generally, very experienced users of online reviews give their accuracy and truthfulness credence.

Concerning the tone of online reviews, highly negative reviews influence Americans more (54%) than highly positive ones (43%) when trying to make purchasing decisions.

Although federal, state and local government agencies have long exercised oversight for issues pertaining to product safety and consumer protection, Americans exhibit rather higher levels of trust in ratings and reviews. Many feel that they help consumers feel confident about their purchases and make companies accountable to their customers.

While online reviews is the indicated way to verify the quality or legitimacy of your intended purchase, know that not all sites (and all reviews) are good and accurate. You therefore have to adopt a critical attitude towards the reviews you read so as to make an informed decision.

That is why we are going to give you a certain number of tips to make the best use of online reviews to determine the legitimacy of a review site or a review itself.

IMPORTANT written in red on a rectangular sheet surrounded by others in black to signify the importance of online product reviews
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Why is Product Review Important? – Here are Review Sites to Check

Product reviews could be your safest way to purchase online.

There are several different sources for online reviews:

1. Blogs: Many bloggers review products on their websites showing you how to protect yourself when shopping online. Such reviews written by niche bloggers are often well detailed, with photographs and tips showing how to use the product or service.

Make sure of the blogger’s reputation before accepting their recommendation of a product or service. Some bloggers are affiliates of programs. So they earn a commission if you purchase a product or a service on clicking a link in the review. For this reason, they may not be that much impartial in their review of the product or service.

That is why it is a requirement for bloggers to disclose in blog posts if they received the product under review for free, have any connection to a business or product, accept paid advertising for the product/businesses, or if the post contains affiliate links.

2. City Guides: Local city guides publish user reviews giving information about small neighborhood businesses. They are useful for people visiting or moving to their towns and also for locals desirous to know more about their city.

Unfortunately the advent of mega-review sites like Yelp have killed some of the old city guides or reduced them into virtual ghosts, whose reviews may be outdated. Therefore verify the dates on such reviews before to see how current they are.

3. Consumer Complaint Sites: These are dedicated solely to consumer complaints. Often they are not moderated enough for you to determine whether a consumer lodging the complaint ever tried to liaise with the incriminated company for a resolution. Therefore you should view such sites with some skepticism.

Many complaint sites allow businesses to respond to posted complaints, thus giving a balanced view of the issue. However, check how the complaint site verifies the identity of people responding to complaints as business owners or employees. This will avoid you reading exchanges between sock puppets.

4. Consumer Written Reviews: Some consumers leave their own impromptu reviews of the products and services they engage with online. Asked about this concerning products, restaurants and services, the Online Shopping and E-Commerce study found “Around one-in-ten Americans respondents nearly always post their own reviews about each of these items, while roughly half sometimes post their own reviews about products and services (a slightly smaller share – 43% – sometimes post their own reviews about the restaurants they visit)”.

5. Dedicated Review Sites: Such sites like Epinions, Yelp, and Angie’s List publish consumer reviews which show you how to shop safely and securely online. They aren’t as sales-driven as e-commerce sites although they may make money from advertising and affiliate programs. Given that these sites make the effort to attract new visitors and reviewers, they feature multiple recent reviews of the same business or product.

However you must check how they moderate their reviewers and manage their review listings. For if a site accepts advertising from reviewed businesses, they may remove negative reviews about them in order not to disconcert an advertiser. Also check the site’s ways of vetting the quality of a review and if they willingly pull reviews (good and bad) that turn out not to be legitimate.

6. E-commerce Sites: Retail sites like Amazon use a ratings system integrated into their product listings. Hence, to buy a certain product, you can check out the reviews of several different vendors while doing your comparison shopping.

Often the reviews come from real users of the product who provide detailed information. However it is not ruled out that some unscrupulous retailers may delete negative reviews about their products. Poor moderation of reviews may also enable people to add fake reviews (positive or negative) to a site.

Another cause for caution are the case of companies that may actually make people write good reviews of their products against rewards.

How can you spot such reviews?

Be on the lookout for posters with no long history of posting on the site. Check for those who praise a product without giving enough details to support their argument. Also be wary of reviewers who resort to the use of specific keywords or phrases (such as a product’s full name and its brand name) several times in their reviews.

7. Social Media Sites: Social media platforms are now outlets for consumers to share their thoughts and experiences about products and services they have purchased. So, many consumers hop on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to make their complaints and concerns known.

Online Shopping and E-Commerce “finds that 39% of U.S. adults say they have shared their experiences or feelings about companies or products on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.” They did so for both positive and negative reasons.

You may therefore check these sites for what consumers have to say about certain companies’ service or products.

In some cases, when efforts to resolve a situation via a company’s customer service department fail, an enraged customer may turn to social media to vent their spleen against the company. Sadly, others jump on social media the first thing, without even trying to contact a company via phone or email.

Such cases, especially the last one, may give the false impression that a company takes customer complaints not seriously. You therefore have to read the complaints and any company responses to pass a balanced judgment.

If you’re interacting with brands on social media, make sure they’re “verified.” Just check for the little blue checkmark by their profile. This is what show that the company is legit.

3 smileys with the top one in green smiling, the seocnd bland and the third unhappy to show reviews
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Review the Reviews Themselves

Once you are settled on some review sites, you must not trust their reviews yet. You need to evaluate the reviews themselves for the best information on how to stay safe online. Considering that a review may be biased (positively or negatively) or written under the effect of anger, it’s important to be guided by the following points:

  • Check the Number of Reviews: While too much of everything is bad, that’s not the case with product or service reviews. The more reviews you consult, the better the real image of the product you would have.
  • Check the Posting Dates: This is because an old review may not reflect the current status of the business in question.
  • Be Alert to Patterns: Should certain patterns emerge systematically in reviews (for example, complaints or praise about a particular item, restaurant service, or shop), that’s a good indication of what to expect from a product or service. Patterns in grammar, syntax, and misspelled words also count. Because several reviews for a product or a service that have the same phrases or misspelled words may signify one individual posting under different names.

A finger hitting the fifth of yellow stars on a bluish board for reviewer ratings
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Look up the Reviewer

On most review sites, you will find a link from a user’s name or avatar to his or her other reviews. Check these out to get to know the reviewer better.

If it is a blogger, and you find that they have some influence within the blogging community, their reviews should probably be worth your attention. But should it be another reviewer, you could trust them if you see that they consistently write thoughtful, balanced reviews.

Some other rule to keep in mind for staying safe online:

  • Reviews Full of Anger: If the reviewer often resorts to profanity or threats to report to the authorities, they may be overly vindictive.
  • Reviews Containing Personal Attacks: An incident of poor customer service should be just that. But when it is mixed with matters irrelevant to the product or service reviewed (for example, a staff member’s appearance, religion, origin, accent, etc.), then an individual is being targeted.
  • New Reviewers: Every reviewer was new at some time and this does not necessarily affect the quality of the review. But a “newbie,” especially the one posting anonymously, may have an agenda.
  • Tastes and Preferences: Get a sense of the reviewer’s tastes and preferences, and see if they match yours or differ from them. So that if you love one thing and the reviewer or blogger consistently praises another, chances are that accepting their suggestion will more than likely disappoint you.

BAD written on a piece of paper against a grey background to signify bad review
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What If You Fell On Bad Reviews?

If the business you’d like to work with or the product or service you’d like to patronize has bad reviews, the common sense course of action is to switch to a better-rated company. But what if you like the badly rated company/product/service because of its good price, fast delivery times, uniqueness, or other quality?

Contact the company to request their side of the story. Ask questions regarding the points raised in the dissatisfied review. Move on if you don’t get a convincing answer.

Alternatively, or concurrently, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau or your state’s attorney general to check out a business’ record.

Don’t overlook friends and family. Although the Internet has supplanted these people for recommendations, word-of-mouth still remains the best way to judge a business/product/service.

FAKE written on pieces of wooden cubes among other wooden cubes
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How to Spot Fake Reviews on Big Brands like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and Others

Amazon

Rick Broida told a true story. Some friends of his purchased a GPS locator for their daughter and couldn’t get it to work. So they brought it to him for a solution but he too couldn’t do anything.

This puzzled his friends as the product had a five-star rating on Amazon.

When Rick checked the product page. It really had 37 five-star reviews. By reading through the customer reviews of a product on amazon, a customer forms a perception. But that also solved the mystery. All the reviews were fakes.

This raises the question:

What’s a Fake Review?

It is a short false critical article made to appear genuine and posted by a company or an individual with the intention to deceive people and sell more products.

One or two of them for a product may not do anybody much harm but too many would artificially inflate the product rating. And that’s problematic.

“It’s way too easy to glance at a four- or five-star average and think, ‘OK, this must be good!’” observes Rick Broida  in How to spot fake reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and other sites. “Few folks are going to take the time to dig into each and every review — or every reviewer — to look for red flags.”

A few years ago, Amazon declared it would start cracking down on incentivized reviews, that is, those posted in return for free or discounted products. Sure enough, reviews with such a disclaimer embedded in them are hard to find.

Does this point to a decrease in make-believe reviews? Not in the least.

Since that’s the case, you need tools to help you detect fake reviews and also how to interpret the results and stay safe online.

Fakespot

Fakespot is a free site you can use to analyze product reviews to distinguish the authentic from the bogus. All you need do is copy and paste the link to the product page, then click Analyze.

Fakespot originally focused its algorithms on Amazon alone. Then they added TripAdvisor and Yelp support later. The company has even recently introduced search engines for Best Buy, Sephora, Steam and Walmart.

To make Fakespot easy to use, you download it as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Now, anytime you want to check a review, you just click the Fakespot icon in your toolbar to get an instant analysis. It’s also available for Android and iOS for those who need the app on the go.

With the additions we talked about earlier, Fakespot detected that only over 50 percent of Walmart reviews were not authentic and reliable. But for Best Buy, it was fewer than 5 percent.

To arrive at these results, the system examines both reviews and reviewers. In so doing, it searches for bad spelling and grammar, the number of reviews, purchasing patterns, mismatched dates and other suspicious signs of fraudulent review activity.

Let’s take the case of a reviewer who’s new to Amazon. They post just a single review with words like “great” and “amazing” many times. That review will certainly be marked “unreliable.”

Better still, at the end of the analysis, Fakespot will provide you a letter grade based on the total number of reviews analyzed and how many were found unreliable.

For example, if, say, 57 percent of the reviews for a computer brand were marked as unreliable, it will receive an “F.” That makes you keep your distance from the product.

Does that mean that the product is bad?

Not necessarily.

We will see why later.

ReviewMeta

ReviewMeta is an Amazon-only analyzer developed by Tommy Noonan. You paste in an Amazon link or use one of the browser extensions and ReviewMeta reassesses the weight of certain reviews, leaving you with an adjusted rating.

ReviewMeta reveals that fully half the reviews here are open to question. As for the “good” ones, they receive a lower product rating of 3.9 stars replacing the 4.3.

So, instead of Fakespot’s letter grade, which can be misleading, ReviewMeta displays the real Amazon average rating.

Can You Trust the Two Apps to Shop Safely Online?

Let’s see.

Often, Fakespot and ReviewMeta give contradictory results of the same product’s reviews. There are instances where one tool gave the reviews a pass and the other said they were largely phony.

Noonan told Rick Broida, “It’s impossible for someone to definitively determine whether a review is ‘fake’ or ‘real.’ Not even a human can do it, so it’s impossible to really determine how ‘accurate’ Fakespot or ReviewMeta is.”

However Noonan was quick to add, “The tool isn’t really intended to just give you a black and white answer, but more to show you all the data that we possibly can and then let you make your own decision.”

So, what to do?

First, analyze everything you read critically. Secondly, in all circumstances use your gumption.

Now, let’s go to the second part of this piece to see other tips, this time, to help you pay safely online.

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B. 13 Tips to Help You Stay Safe While Paying Online

Just as with shopping, paying has never been easier or more convenient for consumers with the advent of the internet. But with the bad guys who lay in wait, paying online has also become nightmarish.

Exercising caution and protecting yourself when paying online is very important to stay safe online. You might lose a bit of money if you buy from a fake seller, but you can lose a lot, or even everything, if online thieves manage to steal your details.

Imagine. When a recent PCMag survey asked people if they had experienced a cyber-attack like credit card fraud, malware, or ransomware, a whopping 25 percent answered in the affirmative.

Alarming, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Paying online security is not a given.

But that’s not reason enough to stop shopping and paying online. As an African proverb says, “It isn’t for the fact that we’ll die one day that we’ll refuse to sleep.” Like all dangers, you have to be prepared to face it. Some common sense and a good dose of practical advice will help you in this wise.

So use these tips to protect your personal identity from malicious types and stay safe while paying online.

There are several things you can do to keep yourself safe online.

VIRUS written on a red key among other computer keys to show threats to a computer
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1. Shield Your Computer from Threats

The more consumers are shielded against online threats, the smarter swindlers try to get. So they no longer wait for you to reveal your data. They give you a bait to lure you into their traps. You therefore need to regularly update your antivirus program to protect yourself against malware.

Even, you must go for a full-blown security suite. This offers you antivirus software protection, and others which will combat spam, spear-phishing emails, and phishing attacks from websites. The last two respectively refer to attempts to steal your personal information by trying to look like a real message or by disguising as a legit site.

It is therefore important to constantly be on the lookout for updates on your browser and anti-virus software. Updates often contain improvements which help protect you and your devices from scammers and other online criminals.

In other words, it’s not enough to just have software installed. New versions of your Internet browsers, like Firefox and Google Chrome, get a boost in security. Older browsers, as well as operating systems and anti-virus software, often have security holes that hackers exploit. Updates will keep you at least a step ahead of identity thieves and keep you safe from any new threats which are always showing up.

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2. Make sure the website is secure

Only ever put your card or payment details into secure websites.

But how you can tell if a website is secure?

Be on the look-out for the following four signs to know that you are paying safely online:

Lock or Padlock symbol: Be sure to always use a secure Internet connection when making a purchase or a payment online. Reputable websites use the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology that encrypt data during transmission so that only the intended recipient can see it.

What does that mean to you?

There should be an icon of a little locked padlock in the address bar before the website address or the status bar down below (unbroken key at the bottom of the screen), depending on your browser.

Valid certificate: If you click the padlock symbol or just to the left of the address bar, you should get information on the site certificate. This tells you who has registered the site. Should you get a warning about a certificate, quickly click out of that website.

Website address – The website URL should start with https:// instead of just http://.

The “s” stands for “secure.” This could mean you are on one of the safe online shopping sites.

https:// is now pretty standard even on non-shopping sites, to the extent that Google Chrome flags any page without the “s” as “not secure.”

Green address bar: Some browsers will tell you if it’s safe to give out your credit card by showing you a green address bar, while unprotected ones will be highlighted in red

Remember, these signs only mean the site is secure, not that the seller is honest.

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3. Use a Secure Payment Method – Pay Using a Credit Card + PayPal

Using a credit card is really the only best way to pay online. If you purchase something from a scam site using a debit card, check, or cash, your money is gone forever. For, there’s no way for you to get it back. Also should your debit card be compromised, it could give scammers direct access to your bank funds.

So be really wary of sites, sellers and apps that only accept money orders, wire transfers, or checks. That is a big red flag.

Look for well-known security labels such as DigiCert, VeriSign, and other seals.

Using an e-money service like PayPal keeps you covered as you don’t have to give out your bank or card details.

Therefore only shop on sites that accept secure payment methods, such as credit cards and PayPal. These as likely give you buyer protection in case of a dispute. Which means you won’t be held liable for fraudulent charges. Even before that happens, you might be notified by your credit card company or bank if they detect any suspicious activity.

Even if you pay using a credit card through PayPal, or similar service, you will not get the additional protection.

At the very least, limit your online spending to one traditional credit card so the damage and hassle is contained to one credit card company if you do get hacked.

Find out more about credit card protection and chargeback here.

Credit cards in a purselaid on a credit card statement