Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Whether you’re supporting small businesses, creating custom gifts or buying ebooks, music or anything else, it’s important to keep yourself and your personal information safe. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to do.

Easy Steps

  • Almost all online purchases require using a credit card. For added safety, use one credit card just for online purchases. Set a very low purchase limit (say, $200) to minimize risk. You could also buy a cash card from Visa or American Express to use for very small purchases.
     
  • Do not use your debit card/bank card unless you absolutely have to. This protects your bank account.
     
  • Work with well-known companies. Real-world stores also have online ordering – you know they’re legitimate businesses. Other safe bets are Amazon, Zappos (shoes, bags, clothing & more) and Audible for downloadable audiobooks.
     
  • S is for Security: When you’re buying from a website and you click on Check Out, look for the letters “https://” in the website’s address. That “s” means that it’s more secure for your personal information. You can also look for a little padlock on the page or near the website address.
    httpsPadlock
     
     
  • Don’t click on links in email. Visit the store’s website directly and then enter in any catalog or discount codes at checkout.
     
  • Know the full cost of what you’re buying, including shipping and handling charges, fees and tax (if applicable). What looks like a deal might not be after you add it all up.
     
  • Read the details for cost, shipping, delivery dates, and any other steps along the way. Take your time and understand what you’re doing.
     
  • Read the return policy. Some stores like Zappos and Lands End have excellent return policies.
     
  • Never give out bank information, Social Security numbers or your birthdate. No legitimate business will ever ask for these – they don’t when you stand at the cash register, do they?
     
  • Don’t use a public computer for making purchases. Someone might be looking at your screen as you type in your credit card number, or might have done something to the computer to record what you type.
     
  • Keep records of your online transactions & check your statements. Save the emailed receipts from the sellers and check your credit card statement online more often than once a month. This will help in case something does go wrong.

Next Steps

  • Protect your computer from malicious software from fake vendors. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated – new viruses come up all the time.
     
  • When you buy from smaller companies, look for a physical address, customer service phone number and lots of information on the “About” page. Lots of details improves the chances that it’s a real business and not a scam.
     
  • Use a third-party payment service for your online buying. PayPal is the most well-known and trusted of these. Create an account with PayPal, store your credit card information there, then use your PayPal account to make purchases at other sites. This way, you don’t have to give your credit card number to all those smaller sites – just to PayPal.
     

Help & Resources

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Welcome to Learning for Life Online at the Boston Public Library

Learning for Life Online at the Boston Public Library is a self-guided program to help you discover the tools and skills needed for living, learning and working online. It’s for users of the Boston Public Library and anyone else who wants to learn along.

To learn more about the program and how it works, read the Getting Started page.

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…