by Josh Stein
We’re heading into holiday season, which means lots of shopping for many of us. I enjoy buying gifts from local stores, but increasingly people shop online. Shopping online can be convenient but it has its own risks. If you’re buying online, here are some ways to protect your money and personal information.
First, be sure that you’re shopping securely. Only send financial information or make purchases when you’re on secure WiFi. Don’t use public or unsecured WiFi to make purchases. Hackers can intercept financial information you send via an unsecured WiFi network, or they can set up a WiFi network that looks real to steal your information. Also, make sure the website you’re using is legitimate and secure – double-check the URL to make sure it’s real, look for a lock icon, and make sure the URL starts with “https.”
Buy from established companies that you’re familiar with. Check their reputation before you buy something by checking with our office’s Consumer Protection Division (1-877-5-NO-SCAM) or your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org). You can also search the company online to learn more about other customers’ experiences and scam warnings. You may also want to buy from companies that are located in the United States. If you conduct business with a company that’s overseas, federal and state authorities are limited in what they can do to help you if you have an issue.
Before you buy, make sure you understand the company’s refund and return policies. Doublecheck the shipping and handling fees – the company may not automatically select the least expensive option for you, and you’ll end up paying more than you need to. Under federal law, companies must deliver your order by the date they promise, or within 30 days if they don’t specify a delivery date. If the seller cannot ship the item on time, they’re required to notify you and give you a chance to cancel your order and get a full refund.
And, regardless of whether it’s an online or in-person purchase, use a credit card. You can dispute payment if you paid by credit card and your order doesn’t arrive or isn’t what you expected. Make sure to keep a copy of your order form and confirmation, plus a printout description of what you ordered, in case you run into issues.
When you shop online, you’re taking a leap of faith that you’ll get what you pay for. But if you what you get falls short of what you ordered, my office is here to help. File a complaint or report a scam to our Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/complaint or by phone at 1-877-5-NOSCAM.