Be careful shopping online this year

STILLWATER  – Following a few important precautions this holiday season will help make shopping from your computer or tablet as hassle free as possible.

One of the easiest ways consumers can protect themselves online is to use their common sense and trust their instincts, said Cindy Clampet, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension resource management specialist. “If a deal or special doesn’t make sense or seems too good to be true, move on,” Clampet said.

Before making an online transaction, consumers should verify the physical address and phone number of the online retailer to ensure the seller is legitimate.

Consumers also should know exactly what they are buying and how much it costs. “Definitely do some comparison shopping, and don’t forget to factor shipping charges into the cost,” Clampet said. “Read product descriptions closely, too, including any fine print. Words such as ‘refurbished,’ ‘vintage’ or ‘closeout,’ may mean the product is in less-than-top condition.”

Review the terms of purchase, as well, including delivery dates, the refund policy and the privacy policy.

Specifically, the privacy policy should explain what personal information the company is collecting and what will be done with that information. If the policy is unavailable, unclear or difficult to find, consumers may consider taking their business elsewhere.

Using a credit card to make online purchases ensures the transactions are covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows consumers to dispute charges and withhold payment until the creditor investigates. Many credit cards also offer protection if the item is damaged. Generally, a consumer’s liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card is $50.

Consumers should keep records of transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt and any other correspondence sent by or received from the seller.  “Monitor your credit card statement to make sure there are no mistakes and all the charges listed are ones you made,” Clampet said.

For more tips on how to shop online safely, visit www.ftc.gov.