Shopping in Cyberspace

For Your Information

Online shopping gives new meaning to convenience and choice. With a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse, you can shop at home right from your computer. But before you “surf the net” to your favorite online mall, the Federal Trade Commission, along with American Express Company, offer some basic tips about shopping in cyberspace.

  • Unsecured information sent over the Internet can be intercepted. Consider using a secure web browser, such as one that complies with industry standards -- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP) -- which will “encrypt” or scramble purchase information. The credit and charge card industries are presently working on an enhanced level of security measures for online shopping. If you don’t have encryption software, consider calling the company’s 800 number, or faxing your order.
  • Shop with companies you know and always determine the company’s return and refund policy before you place an order.
  • NEVER give out your Internet password. Be original when creating a password, perhaps by using a combination of letters, numbers or symbols -- CUL8R or $2BURN. Avoid using established numbers such as your house number or birth date. Also, be cautious if you’re asked to provide personal information, such as your Social Security number. It is rarely necessary and should raise a red flag.

The same laws that protect you when you shop by mail or phone apply when shopping online. Under the law, a company must ship your order in the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it, or provide you with an option notice giving you the choice of agreeing to a delay or canceling your order and receiving a prompt refund. (There is one exception to the 30-day rule. If a company does not promise a shipping time, and you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has 50 days after receiving your order to ship.)

If you decide to pay by credit or charge card, your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you find an error on your credit or charge card statement, you may dispute that charge and withhold payment in that amount. To dispute a charge, write to the creditor at the address on the billing statement for “billing inquiries,” and describe the billing error. Your letter must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill was mailed to you. The creditor must acknowledge receipt of your letter within 30 days of receiving it, unless the dispute has already been settled. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two complete billing cycles -- but not more than 90 days -- after receiving your letter.

Remember, the Internet provides a valuable information service to consumers. But con- artists, who in the past have used telemarketing, infomercials, newspapers and the mail to attract new consumers, are now turning to the Internet and online services to promote their scams.

The Federal Trade Commission publishes consumer and business brochures on topics such as: automobiles, credit, health & fitness, investments, and telemarketing. You can access the FTC’s consumer line at: http://www.ftc.gov. Consumers may also contact the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326- 2710.

You may also visit American Express Company on the Internet at: http://www.americanexpress.com

To obtain copies of the brochure, “Cybershopping: Protecting Yourself When Buying Online,” please send your request and $.50 per brochure, (check or money order, no cash please) to: Consumer Information Center (CIC), Department 389C. Pueblo, CO 81009. Or, visit the CIC at: http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov

Contact Information

Media Contact:
FTC Office of Public Affairs,
202-326-2180
Staff Contact:
FTC Office of Consumer and Business Education,
202-326-3650