FTC Offers Online Shopping Tips for the Holidays

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Tips for Consumers

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, has tips to help consumers make smart online shopping decisions for the holidays:

  • Know who you’re dealing with:
    • Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number before you buy.
  • Know what you’re buying:
    • Read the seller’s description of the product and the fine print.
    • Understand the terms and conditions regarding refunds, including who pays the shipping costs, and whether there is a restocking fee.  
    • Print and save records of your online transactions, including all emails to and from the seller.
    • Buy gift cards from known and trusted sources, and avoid online auction sites for gift cards. 
  • Be stingy with your personal information:
    • Don’t give out your credit card or other financial information in exchange for a tech toy, a free gift card, a seasonal job, or a holiday vacation rental.
    • Don’t email your financial information or click on a link in an email. Legitimate companies don’t ask for your financial information via email or pop-up message.
  • Check the privacy policy:
    • If you can’t find it or it doesn’t make sense, consider taking your business elsewhere, and letting the site know what you think.
  • Shop around:
    • Use the manufacturer and model number of the item to compare prices among merchants. Consider whether shipping is included. If the item is offered for pick-up at a store, consider the cost of parking or public transportation.
  • Use caution when buying on public WiFi:
    • If a hot spot has doesn’t have effective security measures in place, it’s risky to send sensitive information like your credit card number over that network.
  • Pay by credit or charge card:
    • They offer the best consumer protections. If you wire money and there’s a problem, you probably won’t get it back. Buying online using cash equivalents – debit card, personal check, cashier's check, or money order – can be risky.  Use them only if you know the party you’re doing business with.
  • Free screen savers, e-cards, or other seasonal downloads can carry dangerous viruses:
    • Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software and your firewall current.
  •  Monitor your financial accounts:
    • Read your statements regularly, making sure they reflect the charges you authorized.

The FTC works 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 get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a new video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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