Avoid scams and surprises when shopping online

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2014

AG Cooper offers tips to protect online shoppers’ money and personal info

From the Office of the North Carolina Attorney General

RALEIGH — Consumers who plan to skip the crowds by shopping online need to take steps to protect their money and their personal information, Attorney General Roy Cooper urged.
“Shopping online can help you avoid the crowds but it isn’t without risks,” Cooper warned. “Use caution when you shop online to save money and steer clear of scams during this busy holiday 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. Research unfamiliar sites with the Attorney General’s 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 company’s site.


Do your own price comparison. Just because a website claims to beat prices at competitor sites or brick-and-mortar retailers doesn’t mean it’s 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 aren’t required by law to accept returns. Some online retailers won’t let you return items to their local stores, while others charge a restocking fee or won’t let you return opened items. Many online retailers require you to pay for shipping if you want to return or exchange an item.


Know how to contact the company if there’s a problem. Get the company’s street address and telephone number and verify them before you order. 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 doesn’t arrive or isn’t 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 don’t really want, with fees appearing later on your credit card or bank statement.
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 aren’t given a delivery date, the company has 30 days once your order is received. If the item doesn’t ship on time, the seller must let you know and allow you to cancel for a full refund.


Require signature for deliveries. Thieves have been known to follow delivery trucks into neighborhoods and steal packages left on doorsteps. Opt to have your package held at the nearest service location if you expect it to be delivered when you aren’t at home.


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 didn’t authorize, and request a refund and a new card.


Protect your identity. Guard your Social Security, driver’s license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Only share financial information via secure sites, never by email. Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls that ask for your personal information.


Take quick steps if your information is compromised. If you get notice that your personal financial information has been compromised due to a data breach, follow our recommended steps to protect yourself from identity theft.
“Whether you shop online or at the mall, guard your money and your personal information carefully,” Cooper said.

To check out a company with the Attorney General’s Office or file a consumer complaint, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina. Consumers can also file complaints online and get more holiday shopping tips at www.ncdoj.gov.