If you surf the Internet, then you're probably familiar with the terms "digital stores" and "online malls." Thousands of consumers are now taking advantage of the opportunity to shop from the comfort of their homes via personal computer. You can buy anything - clothes, computers, music CDs - you name it! Crowded malls, long lines and parking worries can be a thing of the past. Sounds great? It can be! The BBB (BBB), along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), offer shoppers the following tips to ensure that your cybershopping experience is a satisfying one.
If you're interested in trying a new merchant, one that you are not familiar with, ask the merchant for its physical location (address and phone number) so that you can check on its reliability with outside organizations, like BBB and consumer agencies.
Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order.
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 Security 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.
Be cautious if you're asked to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number or personal bank account information, to conduct a transaction. Personal information is rarely necessary and should raise a red flag.
Check the company out with your BBB. For the phone number or address of your nearest BBB, visit BBB's Web site at www.bbb.org. Nearly every BBB provides business reliability reports online.
Pay attention to the "address" of the site - its Uniform Resource Locator (URL).The URL ensures that you are dealing with the right company. It's a good idea to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
Know your rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace. Under the law, a company must ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it, or give you an "option notice."
If you decide to pay by credit card or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you're not comfortable entering your credit or charge card account number online, call it in to the company's 800 number or fax it.
For additional advice and tips on making wise purchasing decisions online or offline, visit BBB Web site and the FTC Web site.