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Internet Shoppers Can Avoid Traps

Cox News Service

Cyberspace shopping is exploding, thanks to the modern magic of the Internet. But old-fashioned consumer problems still await unwary shoppers.

“Just as the case with mail- and telephone-order shopping, it’s important for consumers to keep in mind that common sense is required when shopping on line,” warns Nicholas Diehl of the Direct Marketing Association.

More than 23 million U.S. households are now on line, and the number is expected to approach 67 million by the year 2000, according to the National Consumers League, which has warned of potential Internet frauds.

Some potential frauds are simply computer versions of evergreen schemes such as work-at-home offers.

But with on-line sales estimated to grow from approximately $1.25 billion last year to $7.3 billion by 2000, there’s plenty of room for fraudulent sales pitches.

“Before you begin browsing the shops in the Internet, be sure your cyberspace experience is safe and you are well-informed,” Diehl said.

As the “expert” on direct-mail and telemarketing sales, the DMA offers the following suggestions for “happy shopping” on the Internet:

Think security. There are various methods to ensure a secure online transaction and to avoid unauthorized interception of information on the Internet. One way is to use browser software that encrypts or scrambles purchase information. If you don’t have a secure browser, consider placing orders not on the Internet, but via telephone 800 numbers, fax or mail.

Mum is the word. Never give out your Internet password. Be original when creating your password, and avoid using predictable numbers, such as your address, date of birth, telephone or Social Security number.

Stick to what you know. If you would like to try a new merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of its merchandise and services. Otherwise, stick to companies you know. In any case, ask the firm’s return policies before buying merchandise.

Look for red flags. Be cautious if you are asked to supply unnecessary information, such as your Social Security or bank account numbers, to complete a transaction. With this information, crooks can withdraw funds from your checking account or establish fraudulent credit accounts.

If you encounter a transaction problem on the Internet, the DMA offers an action line service to attempt to settle the problem.

Send a written, detailed description of the product or service ordered, along with copies of any information substantiating dates and circumstances of the transaction to the DMA Mail Order Action Line, 1111 19th St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036.

xxxx NEW MARKET, SAME OLD LAWS The same federal laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace: The Federal Trade Commission’s Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule - usually called the “30-Day Rule” - applies to on-line orders because of the use of telephone lines in Internet transmissions. Under this rule, which has the effect of law, a company must ship your order within 30 days or the time stated in its advertisement. If it cannot, it must give you a chance to cancel and receive a refund if you don’t want to wait. The Fair Credit Billing Act applies to on-line purchases charged to a credit card. The act allows you to dispute any charge made to the card that you did not authorize, or other mistakes in billing or shipping. For more information, American Express has published a brochure explaining your rights under both laws in detail. For a free copy, write to American Express Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 4635, Trenton, N.J. 08650. Cox News Service

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