JUNE 16, 1997
Making it safe to surf
by Teresa S. Maher
People are skittish enough about using their credit cards to buy goods and services over the Internet without adding the anxiety of running into a fly-by-night company online. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has the following suggestions for shopping in cyberspace:
When you buy online, you don't necessarily know where the physical "store" is located, so where would you take a complaint? To help build consumer confidence in online commerce, the Better Business Bureau is going to cyberspace with its online consumer protection initiative, entitled BBB OnLine. Here's how it works: Qualified companies that commit to the high BBB OnLine program standards are authorized by the BBB to display a unique BBB OnLine seal at their Web sites and in their online advertising. When you spot the seal and "click to check," you are connected to the BBB OnLine site (http://www.bbbonline.org) where you can check out the company's reliability report.
- Determine the company's refund and exchange policies before you place an order.
- Never give out your Internet password. When creating a password, avoid using established numbers, such as your house number, birthdate, telephone, or Social Security numbers. If the site asks you to create an account with a password, never use the same password you use for other accounts or sites.
- Be cautious if you are asked to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number or personal bank account information, to conduct a transaction. Personal information is rarely necessary and should raise a red flag.
- Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau and make it a habit to look for the BBB OnLine seal on the web sites and advertising of participating businesses.
- Pay attention to the "address" of the merchant's site--its Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL ensures you that you are dealing with the right company. It's a good idea to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
- Know your rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail also protect you in cyberspace. Under the law, the company must ship your order within the time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it, or give you an "option notice."
- If you decide to pay by credit or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you're not comfortable entering your credit or charge card number, call in to the company's 800 number or fax it.
Teresa S. Maher is Director of Public Relations & Communications for the Better Business Bureau.