Consumer Alert: Online shopping complaints are on the rise

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NEW YORK (WWTI) — The New York State Division of Consumer Protection is alerting consumers to a rise in online shopping complaints as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that during April and May 2020 more people reported issues with online shopping than any other months on record.

More than half of respondents reported that they never received the products they ordered. Of the 84,000 online shopping and negative review complaints reported to the FTC in the second quarter of 2020, New Yorkers reported over 4,400 complaints and 75% resulted in monetary loss.

“Online shopping offers convenience and keeps us safe at home during these trying times, but we must be careful to whom we give our hard-earned money, especially online,” Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said.

The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule of 1975 was updated in 2014 to include online orders. It applies to merchandise sold to consumers online, by mail or by phone.

According to the rule, your order must be delivered within 30 days unless stated otherwise. Consumers must be notified of any delays. If a company is unable to reach a consumer to obtain consent for a delay, they must refund all the money paid for the merchandise that did not ship.

The following are some tips to keep your information safe while online shopping:  

 Savvy Online Shopping Tips:

  • Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. In the era of social media marketing and influencers, consumers are more exposed to sham businesses that advertise a premier product but only deliver a low quality version of the advertised item, if they deliver anything at all. Use caution on trusted sites that host items for third party sellers.
  • Beware of third party vendors If redirected from a trusted site to a third party site, read the sellers policies, review ratings, read consumer comments and most importantly do a broad internet search before making your purchase. Trusted retailers who host third party sellers do not warranty their sales, thus you could get a substandard product or no product at all when you take the risk and purchase from an unknown third party vendor.
  • Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer. Performing a broad internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Are there any reviews? How is the company responding to its customers? Read the comments within any social media advertisements. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong.
  • Read the product specifications. Online marketing is geared to get you to buy so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want.
  • Comparison shop. Search other websites to compare price, quality, return policies, delivery cost and speed. Buying the “cheapest” advertised price may cost you more when you factor in delivery charges in the short term or return policies in the long term.
  • Protect your privacy. Our devices are generally defaulted to share the maximum amount of data as possible. Take precautions and make changes to your settings to limit the personal data you share.
  • File a complaint. If you are not satisfied with your online shopping experience, you should file a complaint online anytime or call the Consumer Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. to request a complaint form. 

Tips for Using Credit Cards Online:

  • Check the website’s encryption, it’s easier than you think. Before entering your credit card information, make sure that the website’s address begins with “https” and that there is a closed lock or unbroken key symbol in the lower portion of your window or up on the website address bar.
  • Don’t keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.
  • Designate one credit card and one email address for online shopping. This will allow for easy review of purchases and provide protection in case of a dispute. 

Online Privacy Protection Tips:

  • Protect your passwords. The key to safe passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. Try using a passphrase instead of a password and include special characters and numbers. If it’s difficult to remember so many passwords, try a password manager with two-step authentication to manage your passwords.
  • Avoid autofill. Saving usernames, passwords, and credit card information on your device saves time. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for thieves to get access to that information if they access your account or device. Re-entering important information each time – as opposed to autofill – is an extra step to safeguard personal information.
  • Check social media logins. Many apps allow you to use your social media credential to create a new account on their platform, but when you stop using those apps, your social media accounts still have access to the information. Once a year, check the list of apps that you access through your social media account and delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.
  • Secure your connections. Do your shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi does not mask any information, even if a website or app seems secure.  Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are logged into the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches and ensure the network has a strong password.
  • Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital imprint. That information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties to better market products directly to you. This is called “behavioral advertising”. You can shut this feature off on your devices. Go to your device’s main settings and look for the settings marked “Privacy.” You can adjust the privacy settings to your comfort level.

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