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Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber, LLP | Dec 18, 2014

Online Shopping-What, Me Worry?

Today, most people are very comfortable shopping online. The National Retail Federation estimates that for the 2014 holiday season 56% – the highest percent ever – of consumers plan to do their shopping online. Nonetheless, data cracks and losses of personal information continue to be commonplace.

While there is little you can do to make sure that the company you are buying from has their stuff together, here are some tips to make sure you are ready for the online shopping experience. The Cleveland Consumer Law Center recently published their advice about safe online shopping in their Consumer Courage publication.

One of Consumer Courage’s rules about buying is: the more money you plan to spend, the more research you should do. As an online shopper, you must judge how much research and time you are willing to spend in order to buy products off the internet. Adopt a minimum amount of time for things you plan to buy over the internet, because no matter what the cost of the product is, if you are not careful enough, that $98.98 you spend on a new pair of tennis shoes could cost you $700, if your account numbers get into the hands of some scammer.

So what should you be looking for when shopping online? Of course the best deals, but also to make sure the company you are going to be buying from online is legit.

Therefore, before entering your account information, be sure to check:

  • Do they have a physical address?
  • Do they have a working customer service phone number?
  • Do they have a name that you recognize? (or at least a name that you can research to verify that they’ve done enough business to make you feel like they’re legit.)

If you cannot answer “YES” to all of these questions, then think twice about using that website.

Almost all articles about buying stuff on the internet tell you to read the Terms & Conditions and the Privacy Policy. You SHOULD know whether a particular website takes away your rights by telling you that:

“…any disputes you have with seller will be decided by mandatory binding arbitration. By clicking ‘accept’ you are hereby giving up your rights to a jury trial and to file and participate in a class action.”

You might even be agreeing to a $3,500.00 fine and face damaged credit if their service is awful and you write a negative review about their customer service rep on the internet. (Brown, Pamela. “Couple Fined for Negative Online Review.” CNN. Cable News Network, 26 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.)

You should also put thought into how to pay for your online purchase. Credit cards offer you the most protections. If the purchase has problems and you bring a dispute to your credit card company, the Fair Credit Billing Act says that you are not responsible for the disputed charge while they investigate. If you get scammed, or if someone steals your account number, you are generally not responsible for fraudulent charges. However, if you fail to tell the credit card company right away that someone fraudulently used your card; you could be liable for some of the charges.

Debit cards may offer some protections, but they are generally not as robust as those available with credit cards. The same is true with online account transfers from a checking or savings account.

Just a few other things to look out for:

  • Check the confirmation screen: The last part of your internet purchases lets you get one last chance to confirm your purchase. Be sure to check it over carefully to make sure there are no extra charges. If there is a charge that you do not recognize, consider purchasing from another website.
  • Be secure at every turn: Try to make all purchases from the WiFi or LAN network at your home, which should be protected with a password.. Make sure that the website you’re purchasing from starts with the letters “https.” The “s” means “Secure.”
  • Check your credit card statement often: It is smart to routinely check your credit card statement online. If you buy things online, make it a habit to check the bill at least once a week.
  • Shipping, tracking and e-mails: Be sure to check the receipt they send you. Is it different in ANY way? Is there a charge there that you don’t remember? Call them right away and complain if there is.