Your Online Buying Rights...

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What are the legal rules when you are buying online?

Although the Web offers new ways to shop, you can still benefit from legal protections developed for shopping by telephone, mail, and other means. Our two most important consumer protection laws for online shopping come from the U.S. government: The "Mail/Telephone Order Rule" and the "Fair Credit Billing Act."

Mail/Telephone Order Rule.
Sellers must deliver your goods within certain time periods, or they could face penalties from the Federal Trade Commission. The rule applies when you order online, by mail, or by telephone.

If the seller advertises or tells you a delivery date before you purchase, it must deliver by that date.

  • If the seller does not give you a delivery date, it must deliver within 30 days after receiving your order. If your order involves a credit application, the seller has up to 50 days to deliver.

If the seller cannot deliver by the required date, it must give you notice before that date, so you can choose either to:

  • cancel your order and receive a full and prompt refund,
  • permit the seller to deliver at a later date.

If delivery problems continue, look up the resources below for additional rights, and how to make a complaint. (Note: Seeds, growing plants, C.O.D. deliveries, and magazine subscriptions after the first issue are not covered.)

Fair Credit Billing Act.
Using your credit card on the Web is like using it at a store. The Act gives you certain rights if there is an error or dispute relating to your bill.

  • If there is an error on your statement, you can withhold payment for the disputed amount while you notify the creditor. You can withhold payment when your bill contains a charge for the wrong amount, for items you returned or didn't accept, or for items not delivered as agreed.
  • Notify the creditor of the error promptly, no later than 60 days after the first bill on which the error appeared. Put it in writing. Describe the error clearly, and include your name, address, and credit or charge card number. Send your notice to the address on the creditor's statement for billing inquiries.
  • After you send the notice, the creditor must give you a written acknowledgment within 30 days, and must resolve the error within 90 days.

New Payment Methods: A Word of Caution.
While consumer protections for traditional credit cards are well established, the protection for those who use new forms of "digital payment," "digital cash," and the like are unclear. Some resemble credit cards, others resemble ATM cards, others are brand-new forms of payment. Look up the resources below for the latest information on new regulations, if any, that may be developed to protect consumers using these payment methods.

Resources for Further Info

Reprinted from Internet Shopper magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 (c)1997 Mecklermedia Corporation. All rights reserved.