Spitzer Offers His "top Ten" On-line Holiday Shopping Tips
Attorney General Spitzer today warned consumers to take precautions when doing their holiday shopping, especially when purchasing on-line.
"During the holiday season, it is especially important for consumers to keep in mind a few precautions whether shopping on the Internet, in stores, or by catalog," Spitzer said. "Although the Internet provides the convenience of shopping at home along with an incredible array of choices for merchandise at competitive prices, it remains important that individuals be wary of unfamiliar e-tailers and offers that sound too good to be true."
To protect against fraud on the Internet, Spitzer offered the "top 10" list of tips for on-line purchases:
- When buying items from a web site or a catalog, check whether the company has an operating customer service number (preferably toll free), and lists an actual street address of its business. A company operating on a "fly by night" basis is more likely than legitimate companies to have no working telephone number or to list only a P.O. Box as its address.
- When buying on-line, carefully review the shipping or handling charges that may apply. Many "bargain" web sites make up the difference in hefty shipping and handling charges. Some companies increase these charges around the holidays.
- Print and save all verifications sent to you by on-line retailers from which you ordered merchandise or services.
- If you are not familiar with the seller or the web site, do some research. You can contact the Better Business Bureau in the state where the company is located (by telephone or at bbb.com), and investigate the number and nature of complaints against the seller. Sometimes, a basic Internet search will reveal an actual chat room or web site (commonly called "gripe-sites") on which civic-minded fellow consumers have posted complaints warning of a company's practices.
- Be careful of "sound-alike" companies that may be unaffiliated with a well-known, reputable firm. Use an Internet search engine to double check whether it appears that another site exists for the company from which you want to purchase items.
- Always make sure that a website is secure before providing your credit card number. Secured web sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the Internet. You can identify a secured website by its address - it is preceded by "https". For example, https://www.secured_site.com. In addition, look for a yellow closed lock or an unbroken key on the bottom of your browser window, which indicates that your information is being securely transmitted.
- Be particularly wary of vendors at on-line auctions selling "hot" kids' items. During 1999, for instance, there was a flood of victims who were scammed with offers for the year's popular "beanie babies" dolls. In 2000, similar scam artists advertised the Sony PlayStation 2, but did not deliver.
- When shopping at online auctions, consider safeguarding yourself by purchasing "escrow" protection, available through many auction services. Such protection, which often costs a small percentage of the purchase price, guarantee that no money is released to the vendor until you have actually received the product you purchased. Do not rely completely on the auction site's "user feedback" to evaluate whether you should trust the seller. While occasionally helpful, these statements are easy to manufacture and usually will not identify any instances in which a cyber-thief scammed victims using other User ID's or names.
- Be wary of holiday-job offers (such as "Extra Cash Over Christmas" offers) that require you to dial a non-toll free number, or that refer you to such a number after you've dialed in. You may be put on hold and incur high telephone charges, only to discover that no real jobs exist.
- Print and keep a record of all of your transactions. If you have not received the product when promised, reach out to the company in a firm, but polite inquiry. If the company does not respond to your requests, contact the New York Attorney General, and file your complaint - forms are available on-line at www.ag.ny.gov or by phone if you call (800) 771-7755.
The best way to protect oneself from fraud, however, is always to review monthly credit card statement carefully for unauthorized charges. Credit card scam artists often take advantage of the fact that purchases increase in number during the holidays, and hope that phony charges will go unnoticed or uncorrected for a longer period of time.
Anyone who believes he/she has been charged for an item that was neither authorized nor received in a reasonable amount of time should report this in writing to the applicable credit card company within 60 days. In most circumstances, the consumer will not be legally responsible for such charges.
"And always remember the time-worn, but always important piece of advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Spitzer said.