Be a Safe and Savvy Online Shopper with These Tips from the State Attorney General's Office

Be a Safe and Savvy Online Shopper with These Tips from the State Attorney General's Office
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November 30, 2015

If shopping in the comfort of your home while wearing your pajamas sounds ideal, online shopping is likely your go-to for gift this holiday season.

As Cyber Monday kicks off the season with deals that will likely last into the first week of December, it's a prime time for consumers to be scammed.

To protect yourself, here are some holiday shopping tips from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Shop sites you know and trust. Research unfamiliar sites with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office 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.

Compare prices yourself. 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. Remember that cards with new EMV chip technology are not any more secure when it comes to 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 these recommended steps to protect yourself from identity theft.

To report a or check out a company, contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Support NCCC While You Shop

If you're doing any shopping through Amazon, we'd greatly appreciate it if you made your purchases through our link with Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile is a program that allows shoppers to support nonprofits without incurring any additional costs. Consumers shop as they would normally, finding the same prices and deals, and Amazon will donate a portion of your sale to the charity of your choosing.

You can help us protect other consumers like yourself by clicking here.