Here are some tips to help ensure that your cyber-shopping experience is a safe and satisfying one:
LOCATION: If you're interested in trying a new online merchant you're not familiar with, ask the company for its physical location (address and phone number) so you can check on its reliability with outside organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION POLICY: Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order. If online companies can't offer concrete commitments on how they will handle any potential problems with their products or services, reconsider doing business with them.
PROTECT YOUR PASSWORDS: Never give out your Internet password. When creating a password, avoid using established numbers, such as your house number, birth date, or your telephone or Social Insurance numbers. If the site asks you to create an account with a password, never use the same password you use for other accounts or sites.
LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE: Be sure you have a thorough understanding of everything involved before making an order. Be clear on the price and any shipping and handling charges. Know the terms of any product or service guarantees. Find out how long it will be before you receive your order.
GUARD YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION: Only provide your credit card information online in a secure environment. Look for the prefix https://... in the Uniform Resource Locator box, which lists the website's web address to be sure that a site you are using is secure.
CHECK FOR RELIABILITY: Check a company out with your Better Business Bureau. For the phone number or address of the company's nearest BBB, visit the BBB's Web site at www.bbb.org. Also look for a reliability seal from a reputable online consumer protection program such as BBBOnLine (www.bbbonline.org).
KEEP A PAPER TRAIL: Print out the 'address' of the company site you are on--its Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL ensures that you are dealing with the right company. It's also a good idea to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY: Many online businesses are participating in online privacy seal programs like the one offered by BBBOnLine. Companies who are approved to participate in the BBBOnLine Privacy Program must post online privacy policies that meet rigorous privacy principles, open themselves up to monitoring and review, and agree to participate in consumer dispute resolution. In return, they are allowed to display a privacy seal on their e-commerce websites to let their customers know that their consumer privacy will be protected and respected.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING: Don't rely on a professional looking website as proof of a company's quality or good reputation.
PAYMENT: Pay for your purchases by credit card. Credit card companies will consider chargebacks if you haven't received goods or services within the prescribed period of time specified in your cardholder agreement.
ONLINE FRAUD RED FLAGS: Learn to identify online fraud indicators. On the web, cyberspace crooks have the potential to perpetuate scams quickly, leaving no paper trails and bypassing all geographic boundaries. Some common 'red flags' that strongly suggest a potential online scam include the following:
'It's Now or Never'/First Come, First Served: Beware of pressure for an immediate response or frantic claims of limited availability. Any legitimate company will give you time to make a wise purchasing decision.
No Mail Please: If a seller requests payment in cash by a private courier or by cheque or money order through an overnight delivery service, be suspicious.
'Free' For a Price: Don't trust an offer for 'free' products or services that later asks you to send money or pay an upfront fee.
Dazzling Presentation: Scam business advertisements, particularly those sent by e-mail, are often brimming with excessive CAPITAL LETTERS, dollar $ign$ and !!!exclamation points!!! It's also not uncommon for these ads to include misspellings or grammatical errors. Con artists hope that a glitzy website or flashy e-mail ad will blind consumers into falling for a scam.
'Get Rich Quick' Appeals: Con artists know exactly how to scam consumers who want to make big money quickly with little work or effort. The explosion of e-commerce and internet-related businesses has made it easy for cyberspace crooks to con eager buyers into believing that hundreds of dollars invested in an internet business will instantly turn into thousands of dollars in profit overnight. But the only person likely to make easy money in such schemes is the con artist.
What do BC's consumer protection laws say?
If you have entered into the contract over the phone, or internet, it may be considered a Distance Sales Contract under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act.
Definition: A Distance Sales Contract by definition is a contract for the supply of goods or services between a supplier and a consumer that is not entered into in person and, with respect to goods, for which the consumer does not have the opportunity to inspect the goods that are the subject of the contract before the contract is entered into.
Contracts & Cancellation Rights
-Before you an item online, it's important to know what you are agreeing to in the contract. Know what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, the return and cancellation policy and the terms of any guarantee.
-A supplier must give you, the consumer who enters into a distance sales contract, a copy of the contract within 15 days after the contract is entered into.
-By law, consumer cancellation rights and other required information must be included on the contract and disclosed to you.
-You may cancel the contract not later then 7 days after the date the consumer receives a copy of the contact if certain disclosure requirements were not made.
-You may cancel the contract not later then 30 days after the date the contract is entered into if the supplier does not provide the consumer with a copy of the contract within 15 days after the contact is entered into.
-You may cancel the contract at anytime before the goods or services are delivered if the goods or services to be delivered under the contact are not delivered to you within 30 days of the supply date.
-To cancel the contract you must notify the business, in writing. You should be able to prove the date you sent the cancellation notice so it's important to keep a copy of the notice and any supporting documentation relating to your purchase and cancellation.
-There is a lot to know about distances sales contracts and the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Act. For more information, please contact CPBC at 1-888-564-9963 or visit www.bpcpa.ca