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Consumer Advisory Bulletin-revised December 2008

Do's and Don'ts for Online Shopping

How risky is online shopping? Is it safe to give your credit card number online? For more and more people, online shopping presents a strong mixture of pros and cons -- convenience and choice, on the one hand, but also risk or uncertainty.

Follow these tips for safer shopping in "cyberspace" --

 

  • Shop with reputable companies, and get key details from online vendors:

    Shop with reputable vendors. Avoid "E-tailers" that don't list an address or toll-free phone number in case you have a problem. Get all details on shipping and handling fees, refund and return policies, warranty terms, and complaint procedures. Read the vendor's privacy policy -- you may wish to opt out and tell them not to trade or sell your informationthem not to trade or sell your information.

  • Shop only at secure sites, and protect your private information:

    Don’t give credit card or personal information unless the page is "secure" -- which means the page uses "encryption" to protect your information. How do you tell? Secure pages begin with "https" instead of "http.” You also will see an icon of a closed padlock or unbroken key. Don’t put credit card or personal information in e-mails -- enter it only on secure web pages. If they ask for a password, don’t use your regular log-on password.

  • Pay by credit card:

    If you pay by credit card, the federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you two important protections. If you need to dispute a problem with the vendor, you generally may withhold payment while the dispute is resolved, and, if someone uses your credit card without authorization, the law limits your liability to $50. (Check your credit card bill every month.) Be suspicious if a vendor asks for other personal information, such as your Social Security number or personal bank account information -- they shouldn’t need that information.

  • Check delivery dates, and keep records of your purchase:

    Sellers must ship within 30 days (unless they specify an earlier or later date.) If the seller can't ship within the promised date or 30-day deadline, the seller must notify you and give you a chance to cancel your order and receive a full refund. Print or save documentation about the seller, the product, and your order, just in case there's a problem.

For more information -- including links to other sites with good tips for online shopping -- go to the Attorney General’s web site: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org (click on “consumer protection.”) Write to the Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 toll free in Iowa.

Here are some sites and links to other good sources of information about online shopping and related topics:

http://www.ftc.gov - by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) -- a list of numerous articles and alerts from the FTC about "E-commerce and the Internet."

http://www.fraud.org/internet/inttip/inttip.htm - Internet fraud tips about many schemes on the Internet from the National Consumers League.

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