Online shopping both risky, convenient
Posted November 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Cyber Monday has become the preferred method for millions of Americans who want to save big bucks on their holiday shopping while avoiding large crowds and long lines.
Despite the ease of shopping from home, however, online shopping presents more risks than visiting the big box retailer or local mall.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper reminded residents on Friday to be aware of online scams, cyber-criminals and bad business deals.
"Buying gifts online may help you avoid long lines and crowds, but with convenience comes some risks," Cooper said. "Use caution when you shop online to save money and prevent stress during this busy season."
"You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping, and it's just as important to guard your money and your personal information when you shop online."
The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise 3.9 percent in 2013 to $602.1 billion. As much as $78.7 million of that is expected to be online, up 15 percent from last year, according to Forrester Research.
Cooper offered the following tips for Cyber Monday protection:
- Shop sites you know and trust: If an online merchant is new to you, research it with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and your local Better Business Bureau. You can also check online reviews to spot potential problems. Watch out for copycat websites that try to trick you by looking like a legitimate company’s site.
- Do your own price comparison: Just because a website claims to beat prices at competitor sites or brick-and-mortar retailers doesn’t mean it’s true. To get the best deals, compare prices online and off. Also, beware of counterfeit or knock-off products that may be poor quality.
- Read the return policy carefully: Merchants aren’t required by law to accept returns. Some online retailers won’t let you return items to their local stores, while others charge a restocking fee or won’t let you return opened items. Many online retailers require you to pay for shipping if you need to make a return or exchange.
- Know how to contact the company if problems arise: Get the company’s street address and telephone number and verify them before you place an order. Remember to be especially careful when shopping overseas sites, since no U.S. or state agency has legal authority over business deals with companies in other countries.
- Check site security: Look for a lock icon on the website and a web address that starts with “https.”
- Consider paying by credit card: If your order doesn’t arrive or isn’t what you expected, you can dispute it with your credit card company. Federal law also limits your liability to $50 if your credit card number gets stolen. Get a credit card with a low limit that you use only for online shopping.
- Be wary of pop ups: These can wind up signing you up for discount clubs, travel memberships or other services you don’t really want, with fees appearing later on your credit card or bank statement.
- Ask when your order will arrive: Internet and catalog shoppers are protected by the Federal Mail Order Rule. By law, a company is required to ship your order within the time stated. If you aren’t given a delivery date, the company has 30 days once your order is received. If the item doesn’t ship on time, the seller must let you know and allow you to cancel for a full refund.
- Print out and save records of online orders: Keep the product description, price, online receipt, order number and customer service number. Save any emails the company sends you confirming your purchase or updating you on the status of an order.
- Review your credit card statements: Some consumers have complained about unauthorized charges billed to their account after they shop online. Contact your credit card company immediately to report any charges you didn’t authorize, and request a refund and a new card.
- Protect your identity: Guard your Social Security, driver’s license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Only share financial information via secure sites, never by email. Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls that ask for your personal information.