Q: I’ve done a lot of my shopping online this year and my sister keeps telling me that I should be careful. I haven’t had any problems yet but wondered what I should be worried about?
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A: More and more consumers are shopping at their convenience at home or work. In order to shop safely, Better Business Bureau recommends these tips:
1. Protect your computer – A computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
2. Shop on trustworthy websites – Shoppers should start with BBB to check on the seller’s reputation and record for customer satisfaction. Always look for the BBB and other retailer seals and click on them to confirm that they are valid.
4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a “deal” that might cost them dearly in the end.
5. Beware of phishing – Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or an account to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If you receive an email like this, pick up the phone and call the contact number on the website where the purchase was made to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.
6. Confirm that your online purchase is secure – Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.
7. Pay with a credit card – It’s best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the cardholder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Never wire money.
8. Keep documentation of your order – After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by email – BBB recommends saving a copy of the webpage and any emails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
9. Check your credit card statements often – Don’t wait for paper statements; BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by either calling credit card companies or by regularly checking statements online.
10. Know your rights – Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.