7 things you should never buy online without doing your research first

fake luxury goods counterfeit chinaA customs officer arranges counterfeit products displayed at the Customs headquarters in Hong Kong, China, August 6, 2015.Reuters

  • Shopping online presents risks that shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers don't.
  • Certain purchases, like medications or cosmetics, could pose health risks to consumers who don't properly vet the sources.
  • Other products purchased online, like artwork or jewelry, could be worthless counterfeits.
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The allure of online shopping is easy enough to understand. With a few minutes spent typing on a keyboard or tapping on a phone, you can order anything from a mattress to a mortgage without so much as leaving the house.

But shopping in the digital space comes with hazards you wouldn't encounter in a brick-and-mortar setting, such as counterfeit merchandise, clothes that don't fit, issues with delivery, and even theft of your banking or credit card information.

Related: The 11 most sophisticated online scams right now that the average person falls for

Certain major purchases should always be made in-store, where you can inspect the product or discuss the service in the presence of an expert. Other large or important purchases are fine to make online, but not without thorough vetting and research first.

And if you find you're spending an inordinate amount of time reading up on that prospective purchase, it makes more sense to simply head out and make the buy in person, where you can lie on the mattress, talk through the loan, or try on the shirt and shoes.

Here are seven things you should never buy online without first making sure you know exactly what you're getting.

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Shopping for medications or supplements online can actually be dangerous.

Shopping for medications or supplements online can actually be dangerous.

The online marketplace is filled with counterfeit, expired, or otherwise ineffective and unsafe medications, yet the deep discounts and convenience offered by many online pharmacies make ordering drugs, vitamins, and other health products tempting.

If you are going to buy medicine online, the World Health Organization urges you to use a checklist for the drugs, asking yourself questions such as these:

  • Is it exactly the medicine ordered, dosage and all?
  • Is the packaging in good condition, clean, with a patient information leaflet and in the language in which it was advertised, and without evidence of tampering?
  • Does the medicine look, feel, and smell as it should?
  • Does any customs declaration or postal label declare the contents as medicines?
  • Does the batch number and expiry date on the primary internal packaging match the batch number and expiry date on the secondary (external) packaging?
  • Have you noticed any unusual activity on your credit card since the purchase?

Purchasing used cars online, especially sight unseen, can land you with something undrivable.

Purchasing used cars online, especially sight unseen, can land you with something undrivable.

The amazing deal you spotted on car for sale on Craigslist or some other sale site often comes with problems you won't find until down the road, so to speak. When buying a car from a private seller, you run the risk of buying a car that has recalls, improper repairs, or might even have been stolen.

Always run a Carfax report, and consider having a trusted mechanic inspect the car – the cost will be worth it, especially if it saves you from buying an inferior vehicle. And never buy a car sight unseen.

Related: 8 ways to avoid getting scammed when buying a car online

Though shopping online for clothes can save you time and money, be cautious of trying news brands without understanding how their sizing might run.

Though shopping online for clothes can save you time and money, be cautious of trying news brands without understanding how their sizing might run.

If you have worn clothing from the same company for years and always enjoy the look and fit of the garments, then by all means go ahead and shop online.

Buying clothing from a brand that's new to you, however, should always be done in person, or at the very least make sure you read through the return policy prior to making a purchase. Since clothes sizing can vary greatly between companies, shopping for clothes from new brands might mean ending up with garments that are too large or small.

Online cosmetic shopping can mean winding up with poor-quality goods, or even makeup containing toxic materials.

Online cosmetic shopping can mean winding up with poor-quality goods, or even makeup containing toxic materials.

Again, if you have a specific product from a specific brand that you already know and trust, go ahead and buy it online. If you're looking for a new cosmetic product, do it in person.

You can usually test products in stores and get advice from experts on which will suit you best, while the cosmetics you order online may not only not suit you, they may be counterfeits containing unsafe ingredients.

Fine art purchased online can end up actually being a replica or flat-out stolen piece of work.

Fine art purchased online can end up actually being a replica or flat-out stolen piece of work.

If you are looking to collect high value fine art, you need to go through a respected gallery or auction house, whether in person or online. When you buy artwork online from a source you are not certain is legitimate, you run the risk of buying forged or stolen works. Consult organizations like Art Recovery International or The Art Loss Register if you are unsure.

Pets purchased online can have extremely different behavioral and medical histories to what is advertised.

Pets purchased online can have extremely different behavioral and medical histories to what is advertised.

If you're not going to adopt your new pet, at least get it in person from a respected breeder or a pet store with humane practices.

According to the ASPCA, the United States Department of Agriculture has licensed only a fraction of the breeders selling dogs online, meaning many canines for sale online may be misrepresented in terms of health, temperament, background, and even breed.

Expensive jewelry can be safe to buy online — but only if it meets very specific standards.

Expensive jewelry can be safe to buy online — but only if it meets very specific standards.

It is safe to buy pricey jewelry online, but only if the seller meets a series of criteria recommended by the Gemological Institute of America. The organization advises only considering an "online seller or venue has been established for a number of years and is in good standing with third party sources or previous buyers."

The organization also says you must "pay close attention to the seller's return policy, (have access to) multiple product … from all angles," and come with clear information in condition, provenance, and certification.

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