NEWARK – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today concluded the commemoration of National Consumer Protection Week with advice for consumers on how to avoid scams while shopping online.
Last year, complaints about internet purchases rose to number five in the Division's Top Ten List of consumer complaints, as the Division fielded 250 formal complaints about companies that advertise, buy, and sell goods and services online.
"The internet opens up a world of products and services to consumers and allows them to shop any time of the day or night," said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. "But that convenience comes with a risk. Consumers have to be extra careful to make sure they don't fall victim to fraudulent sellers out to cheat them."
Tips for Safe Shopping Online:
Know who you're dealing with. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you're not familiar with the seller, check with the Better Business Bureau to confirm the site is legitimate. Before you do business, get the seller's physical address and phone number in case you have problems later on.
Look for telltale signs that the site is untrustworthy. If the site looks poorly designed; if you can't find an address or phone number for the business; or sales and return policies are hard to find, the site might not be legitimate.
Make sure you're shopping on secure sites. Never buy anything online using your credit card from a site that doesn't have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. You'll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar. That means your credit card information will be encrypted.
Be sure of what you are buying. Pay attention to the seller's description of the product, especially the fine print. Words like "refurbished," "vintage," or "close-out" may be telltale signs that the product is not in brand-new condition.
Be skeptical of incredibly low prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Brand names at rock bottom prices could be counterfeits, or may not exist at all. Or the seller may be on the verge of going out of business and never deliver the merchandise as promised.
Check out the terms of the deal, like delivery dates and refund policies. Can you return the item for a full refund if you're not satisfied? How long do you have to return the item and who pays the shipping or restocking fees? When will your order arrive? The Federal Trade Commission requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days of the order date if no specific date is promised.
Resist pressure to act quickly on a purchase. Legitimate companies will give you time to make a decision. Pressure to act quickly is the hallmark of a fraudster. If the seller demands that you act quickly or won't take no for an answer, it's probably a scam.
Beware of unsolicited emails with amazing deals. Responding to an unknown sender may open you up to fraud. If you don't recognize the company making the offer, be especially vigilant about doing your homework before doing business with them.
Never click on an email ad that takes you to a store website. This could lead you to a bogus site that steals all your personal information. Always type the name of the site you plan to shop at in your browser window.
Don't use a public Wi-Fi to shop online. Public computers in libraries, schools, and hotels are unsafe for any sensitive web browsing. You have no idea if they are secure or if a criminal has installed a key-logger that tracks every username and password you enter.
Limit the info you provide. No online shopping store needs your social security number or your birthday to do business. The more personal information a thief has about you, the easier it is to steal your identity.
Pay by credit card. Never use your debit card or send cash for an online purchase. Credit cards are the safest form of payment because you can dispute the charges if you don't get the merchandise or the goods aren't as advertised.
Check your computer's security before entering your credit card information. Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus and antispyware software are up to date. Run scans frequently.
Don't leave your personal information behind. Never allow auto fill to store your passwords or personal information, like your address, and never allow a site to store your credit card information.
Check your credit card statements after your purchase. Don't wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online to check your electronic statement for fraudulent charges. If you see something wrong, notify your credit card company at once.
Additional Information from the Division of Consumer Affairs:
Consumers seeking information about fraud prevention can find additional information in the following, free publications on the Division's website:
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an
online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its
website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on
Facebook , and check our online calendar of upcoming
Consumer Outreach events.