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For Immediate Release
December 4, 2002
Contact: Sean Caine, 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL OFFERS ADVICE FOR
ONLINE HOLIDAY SHOPPERS

With more people than ever expected to purchase holiday gifts online this year, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., offered advice for Maryland consumers shopping for gifts on the Internet.

"Shopping online can be very convenient–just use a little caution," said Attorney General Curran. "Know who you're dealing with. Check the total price before paying, find out what the return policy is, and pay by credit card."

Complaints from consumers about Internet transactions include difficulties getting in touch with the company when merchandise doesn’t arrive or is defective, unexpected high shipping charges, and finding out too late that no refunds are given.

Curran offers these tips to consumers:

  • Order from companies you know to be legitimate. Be wary of unfamiliar Web sites that appear in unsolicited e-mails sent to you.
  • Don’t buy from online businesses that don’t provide an address or telephone number you can use if you have a problem.
  • Check how much the shipping charge will add to the advertised price of an item. Don't assume the seller will choose the least expensive option.
  • Check the promised delivery date. Order as early as you can to ensure delivery in time. By federal law, companies must ship items by the date they promise, or if no delivery time is stated, within 30 days after the order date. If the seller can't ship the item within that time, the seller must notify the buyer, give the buyer a chance to cancel the order and send a full refund if the buyer chooses to cancel.
  • Find out what the return policy is. Some online businesses charge high shipping and handling fees or impose restocking fees on returns.
  • Look for information about warranties on electronics or appliances. Read the warranty before you buy to help you understand what protection you'll get should something go wrong. If a copy of the warranty is available online, print it out when you make your purchase and keep it with your records.
  • Pay with a credit card. If a product doesn't arrive or you believe it was misrepresented, you can dispute the charge through your credit card company.
  • Keep a record of your purchase by printing a copy of the Web page advertising the item, the completed order form, and any confirmation you receive by e-mail.
  • Protect your privacy. Read the Web site’s privacy policy to see if the business will share or sell your personal information with other businesses, and whether you can "opt out" of such sharing. Don't give any more information about yourself than is necessary to process the transaction.
  • If you pay by credit card, review your statement later to be sure you were charged what you agreed to pay.

However, Curran cautioned against buying toys online. "In many cases you cannot see the warning labels or inspect the toy for choking hazards or other dangers to young children when shopping online. While it may be easier to shop online, it is certainly safer to shop for toys the old fashioned way--in retail stores."

Consumers who have a problem with an Internet purchase can call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division hotline for assistance, at 888-743-0023.

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Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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