NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Shopping Safely Online

Shopping Safely Online

          It’s an annual topic and a timely topic – shopping online.  With the holidays approaching, chances are good that you’ll be one of the many people making a purchase online. The 24/7 availability of shopping online makes it very attractive to shoppers but anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Begin your online shopping experience by knowing who you are dealing with.

          Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. And if you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don't reply or follow the link. Legitimate companies don't ask for information that way. 

          Search for info on the site’s return policies, handling fees and shipping costs before confirming your order. A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. Many sites offer tracking options, so you can see exactly where your purchase is and estimate when you’ll receive it.

          Double-check what you’re buying.  Read the seller's description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like "refurbished," "vintage," or "close-out" may indicate that the product is in less-than-mint condition, while name-brand items with bargain basement prices could be counterfeits.

          If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them. In the event that someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability generally is limited to the first $50 in charges. Some companies guarantee that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made to your card online; some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.

          Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them; be on the lookout for charges that you don’t recognize.

          Be alert for scams.  On the Web, cyberspace crooks have the potential to perpetuate scams quickly, leaving no paper trails and bypassing all geographic boundaries. Some common “red flags” that strongly suggest a potential online scam include pressure sales of “it’s now or never”; no physical site or mailing address for the site; products that are “free” for a shipping fee; drama lama sites with lots of exclamation points and everything printed in capitals and sites that require you to invest in their company before you can make a purchase.

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