shopping for insurance onlineAre you paying too much for your auto or homeowners insurance? How about your other insurance policies?

TV is full of commercials telling you that you can find great discounts on insurance by shopping for insurance online —and you do tend to save money, says Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute and Equifax Finance Blog contributor.

How to shop for insurance online

“It’s easy to compare rates [online], and you can often save hundreds on your premiums,” Worters says. “But you have to make sure you compare apples to apples when you are looking at insurance rates.”

Other benefits of buying insurance online instead of buying it from an insurance agent include the lack of pressure from sales pitches and the speed with which you can obtain a policy. But buying online isn’t for everyone.

Be sure you know the answers to these five questions before buying insurance online:

Is this a trusted online source? Only compare online quotes from insurance companies you recognize, Worters advises. Don’t respond to emails about policies if you didn’t request them first.

“Like any other product—such as banking, retail, and so on—the Internet can also be fraught with theft of your personal information,” Worters warns. “That’s why we caution people when shopping online to take extra precautions to protect themselves.”

Be on the lookout for copycat websites that pretend to be for reputable companies, as they could simply be avenues to steal your personal information, Worters says.

Is the company licensed? Selling insurance without a state license is illegal, Worters says. “If a company is not licensed by the state department of insurance, it may not pay your claims and you could lose your premium payments,” she explains.

To be sure the company is licensed, contact your state’s department of insurance. Notify the department if someone online tells you an insurance product is exempt from state regulations, or if a company says it doesn’t need a license to sell a particular kind of insurance. According to Worters, this is never true.

What’s the company’s complaint history and financial rating? When you need assistance finding out whether a company has a long history of complaints or a poor financial rating, call your state’s department of insurance.

Is the company asking you for all necessary information? If you’re not able to include all pertinent information when comparison shopping online, you won’t be able to make an informed decision about what policy best fits your needs.

What type of coverage do you need? Think about your needs and buy coverage based on them. Worters warns that buyers should be wary of dropping one type of coverage to buy another type without knowing if that’s really in their best interest. Take time to gather information and compare prices on coverage before committing to a particular company or policy.

When buying insurance online, be sure to keep copies of any documents you fill out, including policies, letters, advertisements, payment receipts, and submitted claims, Worters advises. Also be sure you receive an original copy of your policy within 30 days—not just a photocopy. If you have trouble getting an original copy after that time, contact your state’s department of insurance.

Ilyce Glink is the author of ten books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in more than 125 newspapers and Websites, and her online “Ask Ilyce” columns are read by hundreds of thousands of people every month. She is a top-rated radio host on WSB Radio in Atlanta, the Home Equity blogger at CBS MoneyWatch.com, host of the Internet program “Expert Real Estate Tips,” managing editor of the Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and publisher of ThinkGlink.com.