Every year more people make online purchases for a variety of reasons. Increase your chances of getting what you want rather than ripped off.

Here are some tips from consumer organizations on online shopping safety all year long:

Learn Everything You Can About the Seller

If you're not familiar with the company you're considering purchasing from:

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau or the consumer affairs division of your state's Attorney General office for any complaints
  • You can also check to see if the business has qualified for the Better Business Bureau's online reliability seal of approval
  • Online auctions often have feedback sections to check out the reputation of the seller you're thinking about purchasing from
  • Read reviews of the product and seller before committing to purchases. Is there a wide discrepancy in quality or are the reviews consistent?
  • Ask questions about anything you don't understand before sending your credit card information. This could be about the product, shipping, other charges or return policy. The willingness to provide information should be a clue, too.
  • Try to find a physical address (not just a post office box) and phone number for businesses you aren't familiar with
  • International sellers aren't bound by US laws so be sure to know what laws do apply
  • There is no reason to provide your social security number or driver's license number to the seller
  • If something is "Free" that seems too good to be true, it usually is

Look for Signs of a Secure Internet Connection

There is a big advantage to paying for purchases by credit card: the Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to refuse to pay by credit card if your purchase never arrives. Also, if someone misuses your credit card number, you're only be responsible for the first $50.

Many E-tailers use security technology to encrypt (scramble) credit card information that you send over the Internet. You can be sure your information is secure if:

  • You see a locked padlock or unbroken key icon at the bottom of the screen or on the status bar
  • The Web address of the page where your credit card information will go begins with "https" instead of "http".

You shouldn't give your password or credit card number over a connection that isn't secure. Also, you should use a password other than the one you use to log on to your computer for purchasing online. Some Web businesses give you the option of giving your credit card information over the phone, even though you're ordering online.

There are several third-party payment sites to use such as Paypal or Google Checkout if you don't feel comfortable giving your information directly to the seller.

Check Out the Privacy Policy of the Seller

Most sites have posted privacy policies that describe any information that's being collected from you when you visit the site, and how that information will be used. Some sites offer the option of opting out of the information collection process. If the site doesn't have a privacy policy, you may not want to do business with them.

This information is most likely available through links at the bottom of the page as on Sephora, or sometimes in the top header. It should always be available as you check out.

Comparison Shop Before You Buy

Check out competitors' prices, online and off, to be sure you're not paying too much for an item. Also factor in shipping and handling costs in the total cost of the item. Also be aware that you may be charged taxes on your items depending on where your items are being shipped or other factors.

Carefully Read Return and Refund Policies

Return and refund policies are important when buying an item "sight unseen" online. You don't want to be stuck with something that can't be returned quickly and easily. Carefully read through these written policies, and print out a copy for future reference. You'll also want to make a copy of any warranties, descriptions of the item you are purchasing and the terms and conditions of the sale.

The federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule applies to online shopping and requires all retailers to deliver a product within 30 days unless otherwise stated. If there are delays, you must be notified.

Immediately Inspect Your Purchase

Carefully look over your purchase as soon as you receive it and contact the seller immediately if there's any problem. Put any complaints or agreements in writing and make a copy.

Complain Loudly and Often

If a problem hasn't been resolved to your satisfaction within 30 days, you should report it to the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Following these simple guidelines greatly increases your chances of a safe and satisfying online - during the holiday season - and throughout the year.

Tagged as: Internet Law, shopping online, internet law lawyer