The Holidays Are Here Again: FTC Offers Tips to Help Consumers Shop Safely Online

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission has issued an updated consumer alert to help consumers use the Internet wisely while shopping this holiday season. The FTC’s alert, “Holiday Shopping? Don’t Take a Holiday from Savvy Online Shopping,” gives consumers tips on how to protect their personal information and avoid scams while shopping online and is available in English and Spanish.

The alert is available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt082.shtm and offers the following advice to consumers shopping online this holiday season:

  • Know who you are dealing with. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, never reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies do not ask for this information via e-mail.

  • 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.

  • Know what it will cost. Check out Web sites that offer price comparisons. To receive the best consumer protections, pay with a credit card. Factor shipping and handling — along with your needs and budget — into the total cost of the order. Do not send cash under any circumstances.

  • Check out the terms of the deal, like refund policies and delivery dates. Make sure you understand the seller’s return and refund policies. Find out when you can expect to receive your order – an FTC rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised.

  • Keep a paper trail. Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of correspondence with the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them and be on the lookout for unauthorized charges.

  • Never e-mail your personal information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting financial information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number. If you want to pay for something online through an organization’s Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for secure).

  • Check the privacy policy. The Web site should let you know what personal information its operators are collecting, why, and how the information will be used. If you cannot find a privacy policy — or if you cannot understand it, consider taking your business to another site.

The FTC also has issued a consumer alert, “Holiday Shopping Online: Plan Ahead for Secure Surfing,” which gives consumers tips on how best to secure their personal information before they begin shopping. The alert reminds consumers to use anti-virus software and a firewall and keep them up-to-date; make sure their Web browser and operating system are up-to-date; and use caution when opening e-mail attachments. The alert is available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/holidayalrt.htm.

For more information about protecting your computer and your personal information online, visit www.ftc.gov/infosecurity. If you feel you have been the victim of an online shopping scam, you may visit www.ftc.gov to file a complaint with the FTC.

Copies of the FTC’s consumer alerts are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. 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 in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov . 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.

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Jen Schwartzman
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2674