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Rushing to Shop Online? Beware Legal Pitfalls

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on December 16, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With just days before Christmas, 'tis the season for last-minute holiday shopping. But if you're planning to make up for procrastination by clicking online, you may want to pay closer attention to the fine print.

A new Internet shopping survey by finds more than half of U.S. consumers say they quickly read, skim, or just plain ignore online legal agreements.

You know what we're talking about: Those dense paragraphs and annoying pop-ups that contain so much fine print, most people just scroll to the end and click "Agree."

Only 19% of consumers say they read every word, the FindLaw survey finds. Another 26% say they try to understand most of what's written.

Known as "click-through agreements" or "clickwrap licenses," these e-contracts can be legally binding. For example, they often require customers to agree to arbitration for certain disputes, giving you little recourse if you later want to sue in court.

Click-through contracts are just one potential legal pitfall for those in a hurry to finish their last-minute holiday shopping. Other risks in a rush include:

Shopping at websites without first checking their reputations. Take a look at what other customers are saying in online reviews, and check the Better Business Bureau for a history of complaints.

Shopping at websites that aren't secure. Make sure the website is encrypted, and displays a "lock" symbol in the URL of your web browser.

Shopping from public and shared computers. Steering clear of shared-use computers helps to prevent identity theft. You should also ensure your home network is secure with a password and firewall.

These tips should keep you shopping safely in the final days before Christmas. Of course, if your rush to buy presents leads to a legal predicament, you may want to consider consulting a lawyer. FindLaw's Consumer Protection Center can help link you to the right attorney.

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