Don’t Get Scrooged This Holiday Season

    November 22, 2006

If you despise cold weather, crowded shopping malls and parking lots, or if you simply want to shop in your underwear, doing your holiday shopping online will be your savior. That is, if you know how to shop online without being scrooged.

Retail Forward reported to MSN that it expects online retail sales to surpass $33 billion in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared with $27 billion last holiday season; marking a 23% year-over-year increase.

Holiday online retail sales have skyrocketed over the past year due in large part to a decrease in unemployment rates, general income growth, and lowered gasoline prices. Combine that with the fact that online shopping sites are convenient, saving consumers time and money, and you have a recipe for increased sales.

Despite the many conveniences of doing holiday shopping online, there are the inevitable online Grinches and Scrooges that can turn your act of gift giving and generosity into a terrible ordeal.

The Federal Trade Commission is attempting to put a damper on the holidays of those who would commit online fraud with the recently launched OnGuardOnline.

According to the FTC, OnGuardOnline is a campaign to help consumers integrate online safety into their daily online routines. If tips from the FTC site are followed, consumers can minimize the chance of an online shopping disaster.

Among some of the tips from OnGuardOnline are:

• Make sure the company is legitimate. Confirm an online seller’s address and phone number in case you need to get in touch with them. If an email or pop-up message is sent from the seller while you’re shopping asking for financial information, don’t reply.

• Read between the lines. Read the description of the product closely, including the fine print. Look for keywords like “vintage” or “refurbished”, which may tell you that the product is not in the best condition.

• Keep a paper trail. Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of any email you exchange with the seller. Check credit card statements to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.

• Pay by credit or charge card. NEVER SEND CASH. If you pay by credit or charge card online, the Fair Credit Billing Act will protect your transaction. Under this law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and payment is temporarily withheld while the creditor is investigating. Generally when fraudulent charges are made on a credit card, the carrier is only responsible for paying $50.

• Check refund policies. The law requires retailers to disclose a return policy, so find out when the deadline for return is and if the receipt is needed.

• Calculate the costs. Use a website that allows you to compare like products to get the best deal, then factor in the cost of shipping and fees to find what is right for you.

• Never send financial information via email. Email is not a secure method of transmitting your financial or personal information, such as credit card or check number, socially security number, or even your home address.

So recline in your chair, crank up the heat, and follow the guidelines of the FTC to insure that your online holiday shopping experience is a merry one.

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Autmn Davis is a staff writer for WebProNews covering ebusiness and technology.