"Buying gifts online may help you avoid long lines and crowds, but that convenience comes with its own risks,” Cooper said in a statement on Friday. “Use a little caution when you shop online to save you and your family money and stress during this busy holiday season.”
Cooper offered these tips to help holiday shoppers protect themselves:
- Shop sites you know and trust. Stick to established companies instead of fly-by-night websites. If an online merchant is new to you, research the company by checking with our Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau. You can also check online reviews of merchants and products to spot potential problems.
- Do your own price comparison. Just because a website claims to beat prices at competitor sites or at brick-and-mortar retailers doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. To get the best deals, compare prices online and off. Also, beware of counterfeit or knock off products that may not deliver the quality you expect.
- Read the return policy carefully. Some online retailers won’t let you return items to their local stores, while others may charge a restocking fee or may not let you return certain items if they’ve been opened. Many online retailers don’t refund shipping and handling charges, so you may have to pay for shipping if you need to make a return or exchange. This can be especially costly if the item was shipped from outside the country.
- Know how to contact the company if problems arise. Get the company’s street address and telephone number and verify them before you place an order. Remember to be especially careful when shopping overseas sites, since no U.S. or state agency has legal authority over business deals with companies in other countries.
- Consider paying by credit card. If your order doesn’t arrive or isn’t what you expected, you can dispute it with your credit card company. Federal law also limits your liability to $50 if your credit card number gets stolen. Get a credit card with a low limit that you use only for online shopping.
- Check site security before you enter any payment information. Look for a lock icon on the website and a web address that starts with “https”. Remember to check your credit card or bank statement carefully to make sure that you aren’t charged more than you agreed to pay, and report any suspicious charges to your bank or credit card company right away.
- Ask when your order will arrive. Internet and catalog shoppers are protected by the Federal Mail Order Rule. By law, a company is required to ship your order within the time stated. If you aren’t given a delivery date, the company has 30 days to ship your purchase once your order is received. If the item doesn’t ship on time, the seller must let you know and give you a chance to cancel for a full refund.
- Print out and save records of all online orders. Keep the product description, price, online receipt, order number and customer service number. Save any emails the company sends you verifying your purchase or updating you on the status of an order.
- Protect your identity. Guard your Social Security, driver’s license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Only share financial information via secure sites, never by email. Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls that ask for your personal information
“Shoppers need to be vigilant whether they’re on the web or at the mall,” Cooper said. “You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping and it’s just as important to guard your money and your personal information when you shop online.”