Educational Consumer Tips

Internet Shopping

Author: Better Business Bureau

The following is BBB general information and is not intended as a report on any specific company.

The ease of shopping in cyberspace has increased the popularity of buying merchandise from Internet websites. However, reports of Identity Theft and phishing & pharming scams are also on the rise, causing concern for many online shoppers. To help consumers navigate potential pitfalls on the web, the BBB recommends the following precautions: 

*Understand the difference between buying from a business and buying from a private seller. Many individuals sell goods via auctions and other websites. Keep in mind that your legal rights when dealing with an individual may not be the same as when dealing with a business. Many private sellers are legitimate, but your legal recourse may be different if you're not satisfied with your purchase. 

*Research before you buy. Responsible online retailers will clearly post their physical address and other contact information on their website. Use that information to check the business's complaint record with the Better Business Bureau. 

*Review the website's stated policies. Before making a purchase, look for information about shipping & handling, return, refund and exchange policies, product warranty/guarantee details, and the company's policies on handling any disputes that may arise. If the site is missing any information or the policy is unclear, consider e-mailing the company with your questions prior to placing an order. 

*Check out the security protection provided. Almost all websites that require billing information provide a "secure browser", encrypted lines that help protect sensitive data such as your name and credit card numbers. To make sure a site provides encryption, check the address bar of your internet browser. If it says "https" instead of "http", the site encrypts information. Another way to check is to look for a small padlock icon at the bottom of your screen. If the "lock" is closed, you're working in a secure browser. 

*Look for a privacy policy. Posted privacy policies reveal what personally identifiable information the website collects, and how the company uses that information. Look for associations and reliability programs in which the company participates, such as the BBB Online Reliability Seal program, to ensure that the business has demonstrated compliance with credible online privacy principles. Keep in mind the only information reputable online stores typically require is your password, credit card number and shipping information. 

*Protect all of your passwords. Before allowing you to make a purchase, most online stores require registration with a user name and password. Just as you keep your Automated Teller Machine (ATM) code secret, do not share any of your computer passwords with others. Also, avoid using established numbers for your password, such as your address, date of birth, or a portion of your telephone or Social Security number. To help protect your information, many online businesses make it a policy NEVER to request your password information by telephone or e-mail. 

*Pay attention to the accuracy of the ordering information you provide, especially your address and telephone number. Be wary of companies that ask you to supply unnecessary information, such as your Social Security and bank account numbers. Also, make sure you retain a record of all online transactions, including the retailer's URL (website address) in case questions or problems arise. Make sure the quantity, price, availability and shipping charges are acceptable to you BEFORE you submit your order. 

*Know your consumer rights. The same laws that protect you when shopping by telephone or mail apply to online purchase. Under the law, a company must ship your order within the time stated in its advertisements. If no timeframe is provided, companies must ship within 30 days after receiving your order. Check with the Federal Trade Commission for a detailed explanation of the Mail Order Rule. 

For additional information, contact: 

Better Business Bureau Serving Upstate NY 
(800) 828-5000 

New York State Attorney General 
(800) 771-7755 

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 
(877) 382-4357 

New York State Consumer Protection Board
(800) 697-1220 

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.