Strolling the holiday shopping aisles online? FDACS has some pointers

Shopping online concept - Parcel or Paper cartons with a shopping cart logo in a trolley on a laptop keyboard. Shopping service on The online web. offers home delivery..
What to look for before you click "buy now."

Online holiday shopping presents pitfalls that in-person shopping doesn’t, so if you’re going to navigate Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday with keyboard strokes, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s department has some pointers.

Keeping your money and your data secure is the overarching goal, according to a Wednesday release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), which is the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, information and protection.

“Online shopping remains a convenient way for consumers to compare products and find bargains this winter shopping season,”  Fried said, according to the release. “However, consumers need to be on the lookout for potential fraud to keep their personal and financial data secure.”

Before you click on “place order” or “buy” here are some key pointers from FDACS:

Make sure the site you’re shopping on is secure. Before you enter your payment information, make sure the website address has “https” at the very beginning of the webpage address. The “s” in “https” means the site is “secure” and your information is encrypted before it’s transmitted.

Be aware of different payment methods’ protections. Credit cards give you some protections that other methods may not. If a problem arises, the law allows you to dispute credit card charges and temporarily withhold payment while your dispute is investigated. Some companies cap your liability at $50 if someone uses your card without your authorization. Others may waive the charges entirely, FDACS’ release said.

Check products’ track records. FDACS recommends typing the product name into a search engine along with words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” That should bring up online reviews from other people who bought the item or from product experts. Look for feedback about how the product works and its overall quality.

Search for reviews about the company selling the product. FDACS recommends looking at several sites with information about the company’s reputation and customer service.

Look for discounts. FDACS recommends putting retailers’ name and terms like “coupons,” “discounts,” or “free shipping” into your favorite search engine.

Check out the deal’s fine print. Scrutinize terms of sale such as what the return policy is, if there’s a restocking fee and who pays for the return shipping. The law requires sellers to ship the item within 30 days of purchase, according to FDACS’ release.

Dealing directly with the seller is the best route to resolving problems with an online purchase, the release says. But if you can’t resolve your issue, complaints are filed with or call 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (for Spanish speakers).

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]

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