Understand the security surrounding online paymentsThis busy time of year, you gotta love the convenience of online shopping. Just one catch – how to pay for your wares? Giving your credit card information to online sites isn’t appealing to all. In many cases, it’s faster and safer to rely on an online payment merchant for your buys – something to keep in mind as you peruse those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals!

PayPal Growing Pains

The go-to for online shopping has long been PayPal. But the site has had problems in recent years. What was once a small service is now huge and has had growing pains.

Users of the site have come across customer service problems. Those on the merchant side say the site charges a high commission (2.9 per cent and a 30 cent transaction fee), but has also done things like frozen their accounts and held money in reserve.

Meanwhile, there have been stories of consumers having problems with fraud and slow, convoluted customer service.

Online Buyer Beware

Shopping online is always a risky business. Here are a few issues to keep note of:

Fraud: These sites are fraud targets. They can be hacked (like any other site) and your private information can be stolen. As well, fraudsters often post as these service sites to try to get your password.

Information: A third party payment site can always sell your private information (or have it stolen). It could also lead to more junk mail. Always read a site’s privacy policy before giving away your information.

Return policies: Dealing with an online payment site gets you involved with another organization’s policies with regards to refunds, returns and concerns with a seller. Make sure the site you deal with has good policies and a 1-800 number that is answered by real people and promptly.

Exploring Payment Alternatives

The web is full of alternatives that allow you to bill others and make payments. While not all are accepted by other vendors, but they’re worth having a look at to see if they suit your needs.

Amazon WebPay lets you send and receive money using your existing account with the bookseller. You can transfer money into your account through your bank account number or your credit card.

The service is free but the hitch is both the sender and receiver of money must get an Amazon Payments account.

Payza lets you move money around and has a prepaid card claimed to be accepted in 190 countries. This is a full service digital wallet that lets you invoice people all over the world and pay for things in a few different ways. It’s free to sign up but you’ll be charged for things like bank wires and prepaid card withdrawals. The site seems very dedicated to privacy and security and seems devoted to good customer service.

Interac has become an increasingly big player in money transfers and online payments. Provided it links up with your financial institution (and it should if you use a big bank or a decent-sized credit union), you can do a lot with Interac. You can move money around and pay for things online. More vendors are getting into it: Revenue Canada, for instance, uses it. There’s a fee for sending money but it’s free to receive.

Is it worth it to try out these services? That’s a question best answered by your comfort level with online payment – and how often you make transactions. It’s always safer to just buy in person with debit or credit cards, but if you’re increasingly turning online for shopping and other things, test out some of these services and see what works for you.