"During the holiday season, consumers will be shopping by mail or phone, fax or computer, and using their credit cards. These shopping tips from the FTC alert consumers to their rights when they're ordering — and paying for — gifts for family and friends. We think they can help make the holiday stress-free!"
Jodie Bernstein, Director
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection
Retailers say scanner technology has several advantages: speeding checkout time, lowering labor costs, and improving sales and inventory records. They also say that scanning results in fewer pricing errors than manual entry.
Electronic scanning is not foolproof. The reasons: human error or oversight, poor pricing practices, or poor management. Although the UPC symbol has replaced the traditional readable price tag, it's still possible for consumers to spot pricing errors at the register. Here's how:
Many consumers enjoy the convenience of shopping by mail and telephone — overall U.S. mail order sales in 1995 exceeded $219.9 billion.1
The FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule requires merchants to ship mail-order merchandise within 30 days of receiving a completed order unless a longer time is clearly specified in advertisements or catalog listings.
For orders that cannot be shipped on time, the merchant must:
If the company cannot meet the revised shipping date, it must:
If a consumer cancels the order, the rule requires a merchant to:
Consumers should remember that the above requirements apply to telephone orders, including sales where a computer, fax machine or similar means is used to transmit an order over a telephone line. Many mail-order companies provide telephone numbers, including toll-free "800/888" or fax numbers, to make purchasing easier.
The FTC offers consumers the following advice on making mail/telephone-order purchases:
Of course, calling a company can help determine a product's availability, the order's total cost, and the company's refund policy.
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, here are some basic tips about shopping in cyberspace.
USING CREDIT CARDS
Consumers use credit cards more than usual during the holiday season. Fraud can result when cards are lost or stolen, or when people “misappropriate” credit-card numbers — that is, use card numbers, not the card itself, without permission. Sometimes a dishonest clerk or telemarketer copies a credit-card number and uses it illegally. Similarly, a thief can find numbers from discarded receipts or carbons and use those numbers illegally.
The FTC recommends that consumers take the following precautions to guard against credit-card fraud:
Lost or Stolen Cards
If a credit card is lost, call the card company immediately. Most companies have toll-free numbers to report missing or stolen cards. Consumers may be liable, up to $50, for unauthorized purchases made on each card prior to reporting a loss or theft. Under federal law, they are not liable for any unauthorized charges after they call each company.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM
If consumers experience mail-order or credit-card problems, the FTC recommends that they first contact the retailer or the card issuer and attempt to resolve the problem. If that does not work, they should contact the local Better Business Bureau or local and state consumer protection offices.
For mail order, contact either the U.S. Postal Service or the Direct Marketing Association, an industry-sponsored organization. The Association can be reached at 11 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036-8096; 212-768-7277.
The FTC also is interested in hearing from consumers. Although the agency does not intervene in individual disputes, information from consumers relating their experiences is vital to the agency's law enforcement. Consumers may address their complaints to the Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commis sion, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For a complete list of consumer and business publications from the FTC, request a free copy of Best Sellers. You also can access FTC publications on the Internet at http://www.ftc.gov, or by contacting: Public Reference Branch, Room 130, Federal Trade Commission, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY 1-866-653-4261.
1 Sales figure supplied by Direct Marketing Magazine.