With the holiday season fast approaching, the Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to be wise and savvy shoppers. Whether you are looking for toys, trinkets, or a travel deal, holiday shopping on the Internet can be fun, easy, and practical. The FTC cautions, however, that viewing a product on the screen can present different challenges than seeing it in the store. Whether you are buying from an online retailer or an auction Web site, the FTC offers the following shopping tips:
- Know the seller. Confirm the online seller’s address and phone number in case of questions or problems.
- Know exactly what you are 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 “too good to be true” prices could be counterfeits.
- Compare prices. Check out Web sites that offer price comparisons on similar items from different manufacturers or different Web sites. Remember to compare “apples to apples.”
- Pay with a credit card. A credit card offers consumers the most protection. Don’t send cash.
- Use a secure browser. Buy only from Web vendors that protect your financial information when ordering online.
- Consider shipping and handling costs. Factor these into the cost of the order and choose the delivery option that best meets your needs and budget.
- Print records of your online transactions. Print and save the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of all e-mails sent to or received from the seller.
- Understand the return policy. Can you return the item for a full refund if you’re not satisfied? If you return it, are you required to pay shipping costs or a restocking fee?
- Check delivery dates. A FTC rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 day after the order date, when no specific date is promised.
With these tips in mind, the FTC says you should enjoy a happy holiday shopping season. If you feel that you have been misled or deceived, the FTC says to file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357); TTY 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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