Here are some general tips for online shopping:
- Beware of e-skimming while shopping online: Cybercriminals can capture credit card and personally identifiable information by skimming your data online. Look for the “s” in “https” to ensure that a website is secure, and always double-check that the site you’re on is the company’s official (re: legitimate) site. Also, use credit cards instead of debit cards; credit cards have more safeguards.
- Plan before you shop: Review ads carefully and compare deals. Important exclusions and limitations must be disclosed in ads, even online, so check the details to see whether limited quantities of an item are available for sale, the sale price is valid only during certain hours, and/or other terms and conditions apply.
- Make sure to research online reviews: Watch out for generic names and profiles that do not include a photo. Cross-reference customer reviews of the same products on different websites. If you see consistent reviews on several online stores, it may add validity to the feedback.
- Check return policies: In Ohio, sellers can set their own return policies, including policies of “no returns,” but any retailer whose policy limits your ability to obtain a refund must clearly notify you of that policy before you complete the purchase. Be sure to check return periods, which might change during the holidays.
- Look out for “free” offers that renew automatically: Before signing up for a free trial of a product or service, check the details, especially if you must provide a credit card number or pay for shipping and handling. In many cases, signing up for the offer automatically enrolls you in a program that then charges you on a regular basis (say, monthly).
- Check delivery dates and fees: Before you make a purchase, carefully review the expected delivery date and shipping costs. Find out whether you’ll be charged shipping or restocking fees if you return the product. Also, retrieve delivered packages promptly to prevent them from being stolen or damaged outside your door.
- Be aware that rain checks apply only in certain situations: If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out of the product by the time you respond to the ad, you may have the right to a rain check. Sellers aren’t required to provide rain checks, though, if they clearly disclose the product quantity available at that price or clearly state that no rain checks will be given.
- Keep cybersecurity in mind: When shopping for deals online, don’t use free public Wi-Fi when entering sensitive information such as a credit card number. Keep apps, software and operating systems up-to-date and use secure websites whenever you need to enter personal information.
- Monitor your accounts: Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can work to correct it.
- Beware of business impersonation scams: Last month, AG Yost warned consumers that illegal robocallers are trying to ruin Christmas by posing as legitimate businesses such as Amazon and other big companies to get your money. Learn more here.
A final takeaway from AG Yost, “Online shopping can be a timesaver during the busy holiday season, but don’t let convenience become a hassle.”
Consumers who suspect an unfair business practice or want help addressing a consumer problem should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.