Shopping at "Home Safe Home"
Shopping and buying from home¾
on the Internet, over the phone, through mail order catalogs or door-to-door sales¾
is certainly convenient, But there also are potential risks, including invasions of privacy and brushes with fraud artists and irresponsible vendors. How can you protect yourself? The following tips were developed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in cooperation with other government agencies and consumer groups for National Consumer Protection Week (February 14-20, 2000):
- Know who youíre dealing with. Fraudulent people and companies masquerading as reputable ones are increasingly taking advantage of consumers who shop from home. Anyone can create a flashy Web site or send what appears to be a friendly e-mail, so buy from companies you know are legitimate. Thereís no fail-safe way to check up on an unfamiliar seller, but you might want to ask friends, your local consumer protection agency, the stateís Attorney Generalís office or the Better Business Bureau.
- Protect your privacy. Provide personal information only if you know whoís collecting it, why and how itís going to be used.
- Pay with a credit card. If the production doesnít arrive or if you believe it was misrepresented to you, youíre legally entitled to specific protections if you paid with a credit card. In addition, if you have an unauthorized charge on your credit card bill, your liability under federal law is limited to $50 (See Your Rights When a Bill is Wrong).
- Think it through. Donít act on impulse or buckle under to high-pressure tactics. Legitimate vendors wonít push you to make an on-the-spot decision.
- Keep records of your purchase. Write down or print out information about the transaction, including the sellerís name, address and phone number, plus the name of the person you spoke with. Get a complete description of the terms of the transaction, shipping and handling costs, and the return policy in case youíre not satisfied.
- Take extra precautions when shopping on the Internet. Deal with a vendor that posts its privacy policies online and offers you options about how your personal information (such as details about your buying habits) may be shared or sold to other marketers. In most cases, the password you establish with the vendor, your credit card number and your delivery address should be enough information for a seller to take your order. Look for symbols (such as a locked padlock or unbroken key) on the screen that mean the information your are sending is encrypted (or turned into secret code) and that your credit card information is protected. Itís also a good idea to choose a different password every time you register with a new Web site.
- Seek help if you run into a problem. If you canít resolve a dispute on your own, contact your state Attorney Generalís office, the Better Business Bureau or the FTCís tool-free help line at 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
For more tips, contact the FTC at the toll-free number, write the Consumer Response Center, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580, or visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/holiday/.