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Shopping safely on the internet

Q: I like the idea of shopping online for the holidays, but I have heard so many horror stories about purchases that never arrived or products that weren’t as advertised. Plus it seems like Internet businesses go out of business so often these days. Any thoughts on how I can shop safely?

A: Online shopping is becoming an increasingly popular way of shopping for many who are pressed for time. You can take care of your entire holiday gift list with a few clicks of your mouse. However, some online companies out there are not what they seem to be. The Consumer Protection Division of my office receives complaints Internet companies that have not delivered as promised.

Fortunately, most of these complaints are resolved quickly. But here are some tips to help you avoid running into problems in the first place.

Always try to deal with well-known retailers. Be cautious of online stores that have names that are similar to other well-known companies. These names may simply be a trick to get you to reveal your personal information.

Find out if the seller is based overseas. This can affect both delivery time and shipping costs. It can also make it more difficult to return items.
Only shop at sites that protect credit card information. If you don’t know about a site’s security program, ask the company directly. Then your credit card to make online purchases rather than a debit card.

This way, if you have a problem with the company or the merchandise, you can dispute it through the credit card company.

Or consider sending your payment by mail. Make sure you find out about the site’s privacy policy. Too many sites automatically collect information about you and your online shopping habits and then share it with other companies, advertisers or marketers. Ask about shopping and delivery fees. Remember that the closer you get to the holidays, the more it may cost for you to ship your purchases.

In addition, it may take longer for packages to arrive. And while a company may promise overnight delivery, they aren’t always able to fill orders immediately.

Review the company’s return and warranty policies carefully.

Print and save copies of all your orders and receipts. In addition, you should make sure you have a physical address and telephone number for the company in case you need to return your purchase.

If you do end up having a problem with a product ordered online, contact the retailer first and give them an opportunity to resolve the situation. If that doesn’t work, you can consider contesting the charge on your credit card, which means the credit card company will deal directly with the retailer.
Finally, you can take advantage of the voluntary complaint resolution service offered by my office.

My Consumer Protection Division works to resolve problems between consumers and businesses, and in most cases we are successful.

To file a complaint, you can visit our Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us and fill out our online consumer complaint form.

You can also request a form by calling us at (800) 651-0508.

Our Web site contains tips and information for consumers on a wide variety of topics. And the Internet Bureau section of our site has more information for using the Internet safely.