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Online Shopping Safety

Consumers who plan to skip the crowds by shopping online this holiday must take steps to protect their money and their personal information, Attorney General Roy Cooper urged.

Buying gifts online may help you avoid long lines and crowds, but with convenience comes some risks, Cooper warned.  Use caution when you shop online to save money and prevent stress during this busy season.
Cooper offered the following tips to help holiday shoppers protect themselves from cyber-criminals and bad business deals. 

 Shop sites you know and trust.  If an online merchant is new to you, research it with the Attorney Generals 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 companys site.

 Do your own price comparison.  Just because a website claims to beat prices at competitor sites or brick-and-mortar retailers doesnt mean its 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 arent required by law to accept returns.  Some online retailers wont let you return items to their local stores, while others charge a restocking fee or wont 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 companys 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 before you enter any payment information.  Look for a lock icon on the website and a web address that starts with https. 

 Consider paying by credit card. If your order doesnt arrive or isnt 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 at the end of an online purchase that offer you money off your next purchase.  These can wind up signing you up for discount clubs, travel memberships or other services you dont really want, with fees appearing later on your credit card or bank statement.  We recently won a settlement against one company that had used these pop ups to trick customers.

 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 arent given a delivery date, the company has 30 days once your order is received.  If the item doesnt ship on time, the seller must let you know and allow you to cancel for a full refund.

 Print out and save records of all 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 didnt authorize, and request a refund and a new card. 

 Protect your identity. Guard your Social Security, drivers license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Only share financial information via secure sites, never by email. Dont respond to unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls that ask for your personal information.

Whether youre shopping online or at the mall, be careful, Cooper said. You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping and its just as important to guard your money and your personal information when you shop online.


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