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Online holiday shopping safety measures

Media contact:

Rebecca Gants
Senior Information Specialist, West Central Region
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 816-812-2534
Email: gantsr@missouri.edu

Published: Monday, Nov. 10, 2008

Story source:

Carole G. Bozworth, 816-482-5862

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Buying gifts online can save time, money and effort, but Internet shoppers should take precautions and think before they click, said a University of Missouri Extension specialist.

Carole Bozworth, Jackson County family financial education specialist, recommends these tips from the Federal Trade Commission:

Know your seller. Confirm an online merchant's physical address and telephone number in case you later need to get in touch with the company.

Read between the lines. Carefully read the seller's description of the product, especially the fine print. Take note of words like "refurbished," "vintage" or "closeout." These words might indicate the product is in less-than-mint condition. If you see name-brand items with too-good-to-be-true prices, the products could be counterfeits.

Compare the full cost of items. If you are making price comparisons between Web sites, be sure you are comparing apples-to-apples. Are you including shipping and handling in the total cost of the order? "This is especially important if you are comparing merchandise bought online with products in local stores, where shipping and handling are included in the quoted price," Bozworth said.

Check out refund policies and delivery dates. The law requires sellers to ship items within 30 days if no specific date is promised. Be sure that you know if the recipient can return your gift. If the recipient can make the return, ask the seller to include a gift receipt in the package.

Always pay by credit or charge card; never use a debit card or send cash. Paying by credit card gives you some extra power if the merchandise is substandard. In many cases, the credit card company can do a charge-back to the seller and refund your account.

Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, receipt and copies of any e-mail you exchange with the seller.

"Never e-mail your financial information," Bozworth said. "E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting financial or personal information. Do not put credit card numbers, checking account numbers or Social Security numbers in e-mails. Make sure you understand the difference between e-mail and ordering merchandise online."

Check a company's privacy policy before doing business. The company's policy statements should let you know what personal information it is collecting and how the company is going to use it.

For more tips from the Federal Trade Commission on safe online shopping, see http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/online-shopping.aspx.