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FTC, E-Commerce Companies Meet To Help Protect Online Shoppers

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RALEIGH — Some of the biggest online companies are joining forces to protect people who shop on the Internet. The companies and the government are working on a consumer protection plan.

The major focus of a two-day public hearing in Washington, D.C. is alternative dispute resolution, a way of solving problems when something goes wrong with an order.

TheFederal Trade Commissionis working with several prominent online commerce companies. The hope is to make buying online a more secure and pleasant experience.

"I think the industry approached the government and said, 'Let's see what we can do to work this out short of legislation,'" says Harriett Worley,North Carolina Assistant Attorney General.

Privacy issues aside, many consumers still do not feel comfortable buying online.

"Return policies and payment policies are always significant issues for any consumer," Worley says. "Most of our Internet complaints have come from online auction sites."

Companies propose global guidelines to protect users, including dispute resolution. Several companies already offer to resolve conflict for a price using the Internet. Use of third-party help to handle complaints is at the core of the companies' proposal, even across international borders.

"You don't exactly go to Wake County Superior Court or Wake County Small Claims Court to file an action against a bookstore in Paris, France," Worley says.

Companies such asAmerican Onlinehope to boost global online commerce by making online shoppers feel more confident.

Consumer advocates are disappointed that the proposals would apply only to deals between consumers and businesses and not consumer-to-consumer transactions.

The two-day hearing may result in guidelines that will help consumers and electronic commerce.

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Tom Lawrence, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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