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Online Shopping a Top Source of WA Consumer Complaints

December 8, 2008

Seattle, WA – One bright spot in the holiday retail picture is online shopping, which is expected to be up about nine percent this year. But not everyone will be happy customers. Last year, 1210 Internet shoppers filed complaints with the Washington Attorney General's office, up from 819 in 2006 - making online shopping Number Four on the state's "Top Five" list of complaint categories.

Jim Nehf, an attorney and professor at Indiana School of Law in Indianapolis, also heads the "Cyberspace Committee" of the American Bar Association (ABA). He says most people understand the need to keep their personal and credit card information secure. However, they don't always protect themselves as buyers, by keeping copies, and checking return policies and shipping charges before placing an online order.

"You want to make sure that you're getting what you think you're getting in the transaction, and to not be surprised by contract terms or something the Web site is doing that, ultimately, disappoints you."

Nehf recommends doing an online search about the merchant's reputation before ordering; using a credit card rather than a debit card to make online purchases; and actually reading the refund and return policies before you buy.

"You won't always find those displayed prominently on a Web site; you might have to click on those nefarious ‘Terms and Conditions’ that nobody reads. But,especially if it's a reasonably expensive purchase, see if you can find the refund and return policy, and see if it's one you want to live with."

The ABA has a Web site that offers more tips to help with online transactions; it is www.safeshopping.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA