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Whether you're looking for a toy,
a trinket, or a travel deal, doing your holiday shopping
on the Internet can be fun, easy, and practical. At
the same time, viewing a product on the screen can present
different challenges than seeing it in the store. When
you're buying from an online retailer or an auction
Web site, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) —
the nation's consumer protection agency — wants
you to keep these shopping tips top of mind:
Know who you're dealing with. Confirm
the online seller's physical address and phone number
so you can contact them if you have questions or problems.
If you've never heard of the seller, check its reputation
with the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney
general where the company is located, or one of a
number of consumer rating sites.
Know exactly what you're buying.
Read the seller's description of the product closely,
especially the fine print. Words like "refurbished,"
"vintage," "closeout," "discontinued,"
or "off-brand" may indicate that a product
is in less-than-mint condition. Some name-brand items
with "too-good-to-be-true" prices may even
Comparison-shop. You may want to
check out Web sites that offer price comparisons on
similar items from different manufacturers or different
Web sites. Some price comparison sites favor their
advertisers' products, so it's a good idea to look
at more than one. And remember to compare "apples
the company is collecting, why, and how the information
is going to be used.
Pay with a credit card. It offers
you the most protection as a consumer. Don't send
Use a secure browser. Look for
an unbroken key or padlock at the bottom of your Web
browser window to ensure that your transmission is
protected. Buy only from Web vendors that protect
your financial information when you order online.
Consider shipping and handling costs.
Factor these into the cost of the order, and choose
the delivery option that best meets your needs and
Print records of your online transactions.
Print and save the product description and price,
the online receipt, and copies of every email you
send or receive from the seller.
Understand the return policy before you
buy. Can you return the item for a full refund
if you're not satisfied with it? If you return it,
are you required to pay shipping costs or a restocking
Check delivery dates. An FTC rule
requires sellers to ship items when they say they
will or within 30 days after the order date when no
specific date is promised. If the vendor can't ship
the goods within the promised or 30-day deadline,
it must notify you, give you a chance to cancel your
order, and provide a full refund if you've chosen
to cancel. The seller also has the option of canceling
your order and refunding your money.
If you feel you've been misled or
deceived, file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov.
For More Information
The FTC works for the consumer 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 to get free
information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov
or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints
Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil
and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.