The Federal Trade Commission offers these consumer protection tips to help first-time online shoppers. These tips encourage consumers to:
Know Your Merchant It's a good practice to be familiar with the name or reputation of any company you're dealing with. You can often find helpful information about online companies from news sources, directories, and rating services. A web site maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.gov) provides many buyers' guides, lists of tips, and links to helpful resources.
Get the Details. Check for shipping and expected delivery dates, shipping and handling fees, warranties, return policies and other important information. Look for an e-mail address to write to or a phone number to call if you have a question, a problem or need help.
Use a Credit Card and Safeguard Your Password. It's a good practice to pay with credit cards, because your liability for an unauthorized charge on your credit card bill is limited to $50 under federal law and under your credit card agreement. When using a credit card online, make sure there is an unbroken key or padlock usually located in the corner of the web page or a policy that indicates use of strong security technology such as SSL. This indicates that your credit card data is transmitted securely. Make sure to keep your passwords secure, and don't share them with other people.
Keep Good Records. Make sure to print or save electronically any records related to your online transactions. This will help you keep track of shipping dates, shipping and handling fees, and other details of your transactions.
New Private-Sector Actions to Protect Consumers
President Clinton and Vice President Gore have challenged the private sector to protect and educate consumers in preparation for "e-shopping." Below are just a few of the commitments that the private sector has made:
NetCoalition, a coalition of nine major Internet companies (Yahoo!, theglobe.com, Lycos, Inktomi, Excite@Home, Ebay, DoubleClick, America Online, and Amazon.com) will be answering questions about online privacy using banner ads, links, and e-mail confirmations.
TRUSTe, one of the nonprofit Internet privacy seal program, is issuing a video news release that will give consumers guidance on how to best protect themselves while shopping online -- covering issues such as privacy statements and children's privacy.
American Express has promised to take back any item purchased on-line, up to $300 per item, from now until December 31st with an American Express card.
MasterCard has teamed up with the National Consumer League to launch a new consumer education initiative -- "BE E-Wise."
During this holiday season, President Clinton also challenged Americans to use the Internet to help those in need and give something back to our communities. Today, signing up to contribute time or money in your community is as easy as turning on your computer. Already, foundations and Internet companies have developed Web sites that are allowing Americans to:
Find a volunteer opportunity in their community that matches their skills and interests.
Donate toys to underprivileged children.
Donate funds to a non-profit organization with confidence by downloading information on the effectiveness and performance of non-profit organizations.