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Shopping safely online

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It is almost crunch time for consumers doing their holiday shopping online, especially if they want to avoid hassles such as overnight shipping charges or potentially late-arriving gifts.

However, even in their rush, online shoppers should take precautions while on the Internet.

“The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping online is to use your common sense and trust your instincts,” said Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University resource management specialist. “If it doesn’t make sense or the deal seems too good to be true, move on.”

Besides making sure the seller is legitimate – verify the physical address and phone number – consumers should know what they are buying and how much it costs.

Read product descriptions closely, including any fine print. Words such as “refurbished,” “vintage” or “closeout,” may mean the product is not in mint condition.

Also, spend some time reviewing the terms of purchase, such as delivery dates and the refund policy, as well as the privacy policy.

“The privacy policy should tell you what personal information the company is collecting and what they’ll do with that information,” Osteen said. “If you can’t find it or you don’t understand it, don’t hesitate to take your business elsewhere.”

To get a general idea of cost, do some comparison shopping and be sure to factor in shipping charges.

When you settle on what you want, do not email any personal financial information.

Instead, use a credit card to make the purchase. That way the transaction is covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows consumers to dispute charges and withhold payment until the creditor investigates. Many credit cards also offer protection if the item is damaged.

Generally, a consumer’s liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card is $50.

“Keep good records, including the product description and price, the online receipt and any emails you may send or receive from the seller,” Osteen said. “Be sure to watch your credit card statement to ensure all the charges listed are ones you made.”

If there is a dispute, consumers should first try to resolve it directly with the seller. However, if they do not receive satisfaction, they can report potential shopping fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (, the state Attorney General ( or the county or state consumer protection agency ( and click on the link “Where to File a Complaint”).

For more online shopping safety tips, visit

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