National Consumer Protection Week Daily Tip #4: Be a Smart Online Shopper!

March 06, 2014

An estimated 193 Million Americans used the Internet for online shopping in 2013.  Does that statistic seem staggering to you?  How about this one: those 193 million shoppers spent a total of $240 Billion on merchandise.  These numbers are only expected to grow over the next decade as Americans find it easier and cheaper to purchase things like electronics, clothing, and even groceries online.  The FTC gives the following tips for hassle-free online shopping:


Get The Details

Know whom you're dealing with.

Anyone can use any name to set up an online shopping account. Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have any questions or problems with your merchandise.  If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you're browsing, don't reply or follow the link.  Legitimate companies won't ask you for information that way.


Know what you're buying.

Read the seller's description of the product closely, especially the fine print.  When buying name brand items from bargain retailers, remember to also read the fine print, as name-brand items with bargain basement prices could be counterfeits.


Know what it will cost.

Factor shipping and handling into the total cost of your purchase.  Do not send cash or money transfers under any circumstances.


Check out terms of the deal, like refund policies and delivery dates.

Can you return the item for a full refund if you're not satisfied?  If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees, and when will you get your order?  A Federal Trade Commission rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. 


Pay By Credit Card

If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.  Under this law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them.


Keep Records

Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller.  Read your credit card statements as you receive them; be on the lookout for charges that you don't recognize.


Protect Your Information

Don't email any financial information.

Email is not a secure method of transmitting financial information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number.


Check the Privacy Policy

Really.  It should let you know what personal information the website operators are collecting, why, and how they're going to use the information.


How to Report Online Shopping Fraud

If you have problems during a transaction, try to work them out directly with the seller, buyer, or site operator.  If that doesn't work then file a complaint with:

  • The Better Business Bureau at
  • The Federal Trade Commission at
  • Your state Attorney General, using contact information at