Is it safe to buy things from Amazon?

You can buy almost anything you want from Amazon, but how the company collects and stores the information you provide may surprise you.
You can buy almost anything you want from Amazon, but how the company collects and stores the information you provide may surprise you.
Jeff Titcomb/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered why Amazon greets you by name or how the site seems to read your mind and predict which book you're interested in reading next? When a Web site knows so much about its users, even the savviest online shoppers might question if their personal information is safe. In fact, as reported in Business Wire, a recent study showed that 70 percent of consumers either have safety concerns when shopping online or don't go online to shop at all. So how can you shop safely on a Web site like Amazon but still protect your information to make sure you don't become the next victim of online identity theft?

Well, out of all the sites on the Internet, Amazon is one of the safest. That's not to say, however, that the mega-site isn't using your personal information in ways you might not be aware of (or appreciate). For example, there's a good chance Amazon has your name, home address and phone number stored in its databanks -- but should this be a cause for concern?

Read the next page to learn how one Amazon's primary tracking tools could be mistaken for baked goods.

How does Amazon obtain buyers' information?

While Amazon can't actually see you in the flesh, cookies give the company everything it needs to know about what you're interested in buying. And, no, we're not talking about anything that's edible. Cookies are tiny bits of text stored by Web sites on your computer. They're essentially notes about where you've been online, and they allow sites like Amazon to store and retrieve information about your likes and interests.

They may track your every Internet-based move, but Web sites can't read each others' cookies. So if you type in a search for the latest Stephen King book on Amazon, Overstock.com isn't going to know about it. The next time you visit Amazon, however, you'll be inundated with advertisements for it and other King books, as well as titles by similar authors.

However, we should note that Amazon does have an excuse for being so nosy. Cookies allow sites to be personally tailored to buyers' individual tastes and interests. But if all this extra attention makes you feel uneasy, don't fret. You can disable cookies by adjusting the settings on your Internet browser. Some browsers even have features that allow you to avoid tracking altogether, such as Google Chrome's Incognito setting.

Cookies aside, Amazon also learns about you through the information you've entered willingly in the past. The company collects the info you supply at checkout, located in your public profile and even from feedback you typed in a buyer discussion forum. Have you ever filled out one of Amazon's wish lists or started a gift registry? Well, if you have, the company is able to learn even more about your interests and the products you'd consider purchasing. From any of these entries or others, Amazon might see and store your phone number, e-mail address and possibly even your home address, too.

Of course, if you choose to keep a profile with your credit card numbers on the site for speedy checkout service, Amazon will keep this on file as well. Luckily, your information is safe. The company uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software, which guarantees protected transmissions during checkout. The software actually encrypts information as it's entered -- keeping credit card numbers safe and secure.

Ways to Protect Yourself When Shopping on Amazon

There are plenty of things you can do to keep your information secure when shopping at Amazon or any other Web site.
There are plenty of things you can do to keep your information secure when shopping at Amazon or any other Web site.
Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Just because Amazon's servers won't reveal your password doesn't mean it can't be stolen. There are plenty of tricks an Internet-savvy criminal can use to get what he's looking for. In fact, many victims unwittingly provide all the information cyber thieves need.

To keep your personal information safe -- including your credit card and bank account numbers -- take steps to protect yourself when shopping on Amazon and other Web sites. Always log off public computers after using them, and keep passwords private. When choosing a password, incorporate letters, numbers and characters, and change it often. Never give your password, credit card or bank account information to anyone under any circumstance, even if you receive a phone call or e-mail from a person claiming to be affiliated with Amazon. The company will never ask for this information, so if you receive such a request, you're not speaking with a legitimate Amazon employee.

It's safe to purchase items on Amazon using the SSL software, but it's important to give special attention to the site's third-party vendors. If you're unsure about a seller's credibility, read feedback from other buyers. Amazon guarantees all items purchased from Merchant and Amazon Marketplace sellers, as well as sellers on third-party Web sites using Amazon Payments. However, the company specifies that purchases from eLuxury, the Target Store and Virginmega.com are not covered under their Amazon A-to-Z Guarantee.

Finally, never provide a seller with your credit card information or pay for an item by wire transfer, personal check or cash. When purchasing an item from Amazon or a third-party vendor, checkout using the SSL software only. This will guarantee that your credit card information is encrypted, protected and safe.

For more on how to keep your information secure when shopping online, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Albanesius, Chloe. "Facebook Issues Fix for Several Tracking Cookies." PCMag. Sept. 28, 2011. (Oct. 5, 2011) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2393750,00.asp#fbid=Iex55ILo4Dg
  • Amazon. "A-to-z Guarantee Basics." 2011. (Oct. 5, 2011) http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_200783670_exclusions?nodeId=200783670#exclusions
  • Amazon. "A-to-z Guarantee Protection." 2011. (Oct. 5, 2011) http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_537868_what?nodeId=537868&#what
  • Business Wire. "Consumers Still Have Concerns About Online Shopping Safety According to Avira Survey." Market Watch. Sept. 22, 2011. (Oct. 4, 2011) http://www.marketwatch.com/story/consumers-still-have-concerns-about-online-shopping-safety-according-to-avira-survey-2011-09-22
  • Griffith, Eric. "How to Turn Web Apps into Desktop Apps." PCMag. Sept. 19, 2011. (Oct. 4, 2011) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2393114,00.asp