Know who you are dealing with
Your best protection when shopping is to do business with
companies you are familiar with. No matter how impressive a company’s web site
is, how convincing a telemarketer or how sincere a door-to-door sales person
may appear, if you are not familiar with a company’s reputation, it is
important to check up on it.
You can help protect yourself by doing your research first.
with friends to see if they have ever done business with the company.
with the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau in
Wisconsin or the state where the seller is based.
the seller’s physical address and phone number. While federal and state laws
may apply if you deal by phone, mail or computer with a company in another
state or country, it may be difficult for you to pursue claims. Be aware when
shopping with an overseas vendor, you might not have the same protections or be
able to enforce your rights as easily as when the vendor is in the United
Internet. Type the company name into your favorite search engine with terms
like “complaint”, “scam”, or “review”. You may find that others have had
problems with this company and avoid doing business with them.
Protect your privacy
Provide personal information only if you know who is
collecting it, why, and how it is going to be used.
give credit card or other financial information in exchange for a free gift
card, a seasonal job or holiday vacation rental.
give out your Social Security Number, driver’s license number or any other
personal information not needed for the transaction.
e-mail your information. E-mail is not a secure way to transmit personal
click on any links that pop up. Legitimate companies do not ask for your
financial information via e-mail or pop-up message.
website. Read through the policy and know how they will be using your
secure browser when making payments. Do not use public Wi-Fi sites to send
sensitive information. Public “hot spots” are not secure.
anti-virus and anti-spyware current along with your firewall. “Free”
screensavers, e-cards or other seasonal downloads could contain viruses.
Wisconsin, there are no state laws regulating layaway policies. The store may
set its own policy.
putting any money down, be sure to check out the store’s policy. Are there
storage and layaway fees, maximum number of payments allowed, time limits
between each payment or cancellation penalties or privileges? If you do not
bother to check, you could lose your money.
merchant’s layaway plan in writing. Look for details on the terms of the
layaway plan: how much time you have to pay for the merchandise or service;
when payments are due; the minimum payment required; and the possible charges
for using the plan, like a service fee. Find out if there is a fee or penalty
for missed or late payments. Will your contract be cancelled? Will the
merchandise be returned to inventory?
decide you do not want the merchandise after you have made some or all
payments, can you get a refund? Retailers’ policies may differ: some give you
all your money back; others may charge a non-refundable service fee; still
others may offer a merchant credit for the amount you paid.
records of the payments you make on layaway merchandise. They may come in handy
if you have a problem with the seller.
Be a smart buyer
Do the research on the product you are shopping for. Do not
act on impulse or buckle under to high-pressure tactics. Legitimate vendors
will not railroad you into making an on-the-spot decision that you might later
regret. That is especially true for vendors who stand by their products and
seller’s description – including the fine print.
basic features of a product and research add-on features or top-of-the-line for
the item. How much extra are you paying and is it worth it?
around. Take the item’s manufacturer and model number and compare among
merchants. Some retailers match or beat prices or may have an offer of free
reviews on products to get a good idea about performance, but be skeptical.
Companies can set up fake reviews by paying “shills” to submit positive
comments. They can also delete any negative comments. Check websites that
specialize in reviewing products.
Pay with a credit card
Credit cards offer the best consumer protections. Under
federal law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances
within 60 days of purchase and payment is withheld while the charge is being
investigated. You have credit card protections:
product does not arrive on time or if you believe it was misrepresented.
have an unauthorized charge on your credit card bill, your liability under
federal law is limited to $50. Monitor the charges appearing on your monthly
Buying online using cash or cash equivalents – debit card, personal
check, cashier’s check or money order – can be risky. Wiring money is also just
like sending cash. Once it is gone, it is gone and you cannot get it back.
Check on delivery dates
Keep or print out any advertisements or materials that show
a specific delivery time, or write the delivery time in your records if one was
The law requires sellers to ship items by the time they
promise or, if no delivery time is stated, within 30 days after the order date.
If the seller cannot ship the goods within the stated time frame or 30-day
deadline, the seller must notify you, give you a chance to cancel your order
and send a full refund if you have chosen to cancel. The seller also has the
option of canceling your order and refunding your money.
Check shipping and handling fees
Many retailers add a shipping and handling fee to the price
of an item. Shipping and handling can be:
Several delivery methods – standard/ground, two-day or
overnight- may also be available at various costs. Be sure to find out about
the options and costs and choose the delivery method you prefer. If you do not,
the retailer may decide for you.
Knowing the cost of shipping can significantly impact the
cost of the product and your decision who to purchase from.
Keep records of your purchases
When ordering by phone or computer, write down or print out
information related to the transaction, including the seller’s name, address
and telephone number; the name of the person you spoke with, if applicable; a
description of what you ordered; and the seller’s delivery date, terms and
return policies. This documentation can be vital to have if you do not receive
your order, receive the wrong shipment or have some other problem.
Track your order
If it is not delivered on time and you have not been
notified of a delay, contact the company. It is your choice to agree to wait
longer to receive the order or to cancel. If you cancel, your money must be
refunded within seven days, or your account must be credited within one billing
cycle if you charged the order. The company cannot substitute a merchandise
credit for a refund.
The “cooling off” rule or your right to cancel
Purchases made away from the seller’s permanent place of
business and over $25, may be subject to federal and state laws allowing you to
cancel the purchase within three business days.
Wisconsin’s direct marketing rule adds enforcement penalties
to another Wisconsin law which provides a “cooling-off” period allowing you
three business days to think about and cancel a direct marketing sale. The
three-day cooling-off period does not cover real estate, auctions, items used
for agricultural purposes or insurance – even if sold door to door. Your
three-day right to cancel starts after the seller has provided you the proper
written notice of your right to cancel. In a direct marketing transaction, you
must be notified of your three-day right to cancel. If you do choose to cancel,
send your cancellation by certified mail, so you will have written proof that
your cancellation notice was sent on time. Your money must be returned to you
within 10 days. If the seller does not pick-up the product in 20 days, you may
Direct mail marketing is a growth industry because it
enables sellers to target individuals in specific geographic, demographic or
interest groups for their advertising. Most direct mail marketers are bona fide
companies – but unfortunately, not all.
It is illegal for anyone to use the mail as part of a scheme
to cheat people out of money. Federal mail fraud laws apply whether the mail is
used to send solicitations to consumers, to receive consumers’ payments or to
transmit information from one company location to another. It is also against
federal law for private or commercial interstate delivery services to be used
as part of a fraudulent scheme.
In addition, it is illegal to use the mail or a private or
commercial delivery service to send lottery solicitations or tickets across
state lines or from another country into the United States. Federal law also
prohibits mail that looks like it is from a government agency when it is not,
or that looks like an invoice when no goods or services were ever ordered,
unless it clearly states that it is not a bill but only a sales solicitation.
To report mail fraud, call the local U.S. Postal Inspection
Service or Postmaster. More information is posted at www.usps.gov.
Consumers who wish to have their name deleted from many
direct mail lists can register with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail
Preference Service. To register, go to www.dmachoice.org or mail your request with a $1 processing fee to:
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
While the Internet has greatly expanded the opportunity to
shop from home, it has also increased the opportunity to be scammed.
Identifying a fraudulent vendor on the Internet can be difficult. It is easy to
create a flashy website or send what appears to be a friendly e-mail message.
Online vendors want to know as much about your buying habits
as possible. They use this valuable information to tailor future advertising to
you often resulting in you being bombarded with unwanted advertising. Online
vendors use “cookies” to send ads targeted to your tastes and interests. A
cookie is information that a site saves to your computer using your web
browser. The data can be used to create a profile of your online activities and
target future advertising.
First-party cookies are placed by a site when you visit it.
To make your online experience more efficient, cookies can help sites remember
the items in your shopping cart, your log-in name, your preferences, and your
high game scores.
Third party cookies are placed by someone other than the
site you are on. These can be advertising networks that use the information to
deliver ads tailored to your interests.
Various browsers have different ways to let you delete or
limit the kinds of cookies placed on your computer. It is important to choose
browsers with this in mind and keep your browser up-to-date for your
Confirm that you are shopping on a site that uses a secure
server by looking for a locked key or padlock at the bottom of the browser
screen. These symbols mean that the information you are sending is encrypted –
turned into a secret code – for online transmission. Only people with the
proper decoding software can access the data.
Check privacy policies online and find out how your personal
information will be used. In most cases, the password you established with the
vendor and your credit card number and delivery address are the only
information a seller should need to take your order. If a site does not have a
page, or it could be included with the Legal Terms.
Review the return, refund and shipping and handling policies
as well as other legal terms. If you cannot find them, ask the seller through
and e-mail to indicate where they are on the site or to provide them to you in
Print the terms. You should print out and date a copy of the
terms, conditions, warranties, item description, company information, even
confirming e-mails, and save them with your records of your purchase.
Pay close attention
When making an online purchase, an additional keystroke
could get you 10 shirts when you only wanted one.
Insure the safe delivery of your item. If you are concerned
you may not be home when your package is delivered and that someone may take it
if it is left on the doorstep, ask whether you can specify that the shipper
must receive a signature before leaving the package. Or, it may be safer to
have the package delivered to your office.
Inspect your purchase. Look at your purchase carefully as
soon as you receive it. Contact the seller as soon as possible if you discover
a problem with it. Tell the seller in writing about any problems you have, ask
for a repair or refund, and keep a copy of your correspondence.
When ordering online, it is also important to guard your
passwords. Do not use the same password you use to log on to your computer or
network if the seller requires you to use a password to make a purchase. And
choose a different password every time you register with a new site.
Do not store information elsewhere online. Many shopping
sites, even the major ones, offer you the ability to save your credit
information on their servers to speed the shopping process. It is definitely
faster, but there are some risks to maintaining your personal information
elsewhere. If a company that you are shopping with has a data breach, your
personal information could be put at risk. It takes a little longer, but
instead of storing your information on some server that you have no control
over, just enter it yourself each time you shop.
Online auctions are another way of shopping, but before you
place a cyber-bid, consider how online auction houses work. At traditional
“live” auctions, the highest bidder “wins” - that is where the similarity ends.
Many online auction sites do not have physical possession of the merchandise.
The highest bidder often deals directly with the seller to complete the sale.
If you are the highest bidder, the seller typically will
contact you by e-mail to arrange for payment and delivery. Some sellers may
accept credit cards. Many sellers require payment with a check, certified check
or money order. It is important to recognize that these payment methods do not
offer the same consumer protections as credit cards.
Some online sellers have put items up for auction, taken the
highest bidder’s money and never delivered the merchandise. Consumers who paid
by check or money order had little recourse when it came to getting their money
To help protect yourself when shopping through an online
auction, ask about using an escrow service, which collects your payment and
forwards it to the seller when you confirm that you have received the
merchandise. Most escrow services charge a small fee, but the investment is
well worth it. Another option is to pay cash on delivery.
Anyone with a phone can be victimized by telemarketing or
texting scam artists. You may get a call or text from a stranger who got your
number from a telephone directory, mailing list or “sucker list” of people who
have already lost money through fraudulent promotions or merchandise sales.
The Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and
the Wisconsin Direct Marketing Rule require telemarketers to make certain
disclosures and prohibit misrepresentations.
It is illegal for telemarketers to:
before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They cannot call you if you have not asked them
have caller ID, the telephone number must be displayed for itself or the
company it is calling for and the name.
tell you they are selling something and who they represent.
paying for any products, they must tell you the total cost of the product or
service including the terms and conditions and any restrictions or conditions
promotions must tell you the odds of winning, that no purchase is necessary,
and any restrictions or conditions that apply. Prizes are free. If you are
asked to pay for a prize, hang up!
If you have the slightest doubt about a telephone offer,
tell the caller to send you the information in writing and check it out before
putting your money on the line.
Some businesses sell their goods and services by sending
their sales people out to ring doorbells or arranging for home parties. Many
consumers enjoy shopping “the old-fashioned way,” but as in other types of
sales, it is hard to know how to determine if a seller is legitimate.
If you are approached by a sales person at home, ask for
identification verifying the person’s name, the name of the business and the
business address. Tell any salesperson that cannot provide this information to
leave, and report suspicious salespeople to your local police department.
Do not feel pressured into buying something even if you are
satisfied with the information provided. Be wary of sales pitches that require
you to make an on-the-spot decision or offer “free” gifts with a purchase.
Before buying anything, it is a good idea to ask for literature about the
product or service and to comparison shop with local vendors.
If you have made a door-to-door purchase of $25 or more,
Wisconsin laws give you three days to cancel the transaction. By law, the sales
person must tell you about your cancellation rights at the time of the sale.
The salesperson also must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to
keep and one to send) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or
receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain
your right to cancel. The contract or receipt must be in the same language that
is used in the sales presentation.