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Problems With Online Shopping

Purchasing goods from the comfort of your living room is more convenient than driving to a store. E-commerce gives you a virtually unlimited array of choices. Plus, you can compare prices or track discounts with online tools.

Though technology has come a long way, problems occasionally arise when shopping online. This article covers common issues, such as getting the wrong item or falling prey to online scams. Learn how consumer protection laws apply to your online transactions.

What if I don't get what I ordered?

Check the online retailer's policies to see whether it has a specific process for order issues. Most store websites have a webpage that covers disclaimers and other legal terms. You can also call or email the company for details.

You might receive an item that differs from the online listing. In this case, the seller is responsible for correcting the error at no extra charge or refunding your money. If you suspect you received a counterfeit product, government agencies are more likely to help you than the seller.

Most online vendors understand that customer service can make or break their business and will try to fix the problem as soon as possible. Some will reimburse you for the cost of return shipping if it is the company's fault.

What can I do about online marketplace fraud?

Your options vary when you buy something through online auctions and marketplaces, such as:

  • Craigslist
  • Ebay
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Amazon
  • Etsy
  • Rakuten
  • AliExpress

On these websites, you purchase products from individual sellers, not from the marketplace platforms. The websites typically only connect buyers and sellers. Resolving issues can be difficult if the seller acts in bad faith or ignores your messages. Individual sellers might lack a return policy for unwanted products.

Read a marketplace platform's policies, including its consumer risk disclosures. Sometimes, they have a process to resolve disputes between you and the vendor. The fine print might explain how the marketplace's refund policies can help you, or it might say that by placing an order, you agreed to assume the risk for online purchases sold as-is.

Fraud could also occur at the marketplace level. Like any other company, a marketplace must keep its promises to customers.

What if I received merchandise I did not order?

If you received a product that you never ordered, you have the right to keep it as a gift, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The seller can't demand that you pay for the product. You may notify the seller and offer to return the item. The seller may agree to pay for shipping.

It is a different situation if the good has someone else's address, but the mailperson delivered it to your address. In that case, you should put a “wrong address" note on the package, then return it to your mailbox or the local post office.

What should I do about shipping delays?

Your first option is to contact the seller. Retailers must ship orders or notify you of a delay within 30 days. The law requires retailers to explain your right to a full refund for undelivered goods.

The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule is a federal law that sets this 30-day requirement for online sales. The final delivery date may be later than 30 days.

If a seller can't ship your order in this window, they must contact you. You may either agree to a shipping delay or request a refund and cancel the order.

What if a seller delays my order a second time?

You can choose to cancel or wait. If the seller can't meet the revised shipping date, it must notify you again by mail, email, or telephone.

The seller must give you a new shipping date if you are willing to wait for the product. Otherwise, the seller must cancel your order and issue a refund.

What should I do if my order never arrives?

Contacting the seller is a smart first step to finding out the reason your order hasn't arrived. These may include:

  • The item was shipped but delivered to the wrong address
  • Someone stole the item after a correct delivery
  • The deliverer left the item in a hidden spot on your property
  • The seller never shipped the item

A parcel tracking number can help you trace the product's journey. It can also prove whether the seller sent your order. The seller should provide shipping and tracking information. Otherwise, it should offer a full refund or send a replacement.

You or the seller can report the missing package to the United States Post Office or private delivery service. Some online retailers may also be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and send a replacement.

Disputing a Credit Card Charge

The online vendor may be unwilling or unable to help you or might deny your claim that the item was never delivered. In these cases, the Fair Credit Billing Act can protect you from credit card charges for undelivered items. The FTC offers a step-by-step guide for this common problem with online shopping.

You may write a letter or email to your credit card issuer's billing department about the problem. Send your inquiry within 60 days after the seller charges you for the item.

Are there special concerns when buying from foreign companies?

As a general rule, approach international orders with caution. Problems with online shopping can be harder to resolve with sellers in foreign countries.

Before you order, understand the following details:

  • How the seller priced the item
  • How the price converts to U.S. dollars if listed in a different currency
  • Whether the retailer will ship to other countries
  • The likely length of time it will take to fulfill the order
  • Any applicable special duties or taxes

If your order's problems rise to the level of a legal claim, most vendors would need you to attend their local court. Traveling to Switzerland to argue that you received the wrong Swiss Army Knife probably isn't worthwhile. A better alternative may be to look for a U.S. reseller who offers the same items.

What can I do if a seller leaks my personal data?

Your options vary based on the type of data leaked. Federal laws give you several rights to prevent misuse of your information. Sellers must use processes and systems that protect shoppers' privacy.

For example, if a vendor shares or exposes your phone number, you might start getting frequent sales calls. You could sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Once your number is on the list for 31 days, you can report unsolicited callers to the FTC.

If your financial information was part of a data breach, you may want to involve law enforcement. Depending on the payment method for your purchase, others may access your bank account or credit card number for fraud.

If you learn about an online shopping data leak through a consumer alert, government agencies may be working on a solution already.

Are there any scams I should watch out for when buying online?

Yes, online shopping can expose you to several scams and unfair practices, but you can consider the following tips to avoid them:

  • Beware of "Gray Market" Items: A product may be illegal in the U.S., sold in a way that sidesteps regulations, or unintended for the U.S. market. You may get something that doesn't work right, or it might use a language you don't know.
  • Be Skeptical of Service Contracts: Extended service packages from retailers or third parties might be expensive and unnecessary.
  • Make Sure You Understand Shipping Charges: A retailer may seek profit from heavily discounted items by tacking on a high shipping rate, which they don't actually use for shipping.
  • Know How to Spot the "U.S. Warranty" Limitation: Sometimes gray market goods are sold with a third-party warranty, but it's only a "U.S. warranty." This type differs from a manufacturer's warranty and typically provides inferior protection.

Other online scams include phishing and spoofing. Another common issue is identity theft, which can occur with or without the internet.

You can report fraud to consumer rights agencies like the Better Business Bureau or your state's Attorney General.

Legal Advice for Online Transaction Issues

Do your research before a purchase and know the red flags of bad business practices. Despite your best efforts, you might face legal issues with an online retailer or scammer.

Consider speaking with a consumer protection lawyer if you can't resolve a dispute with online shopping. They can help you leverage your legal rights.

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