Shop online…but be smart

Submitted by Kay Helbling

Shopping online has become a casual affair. To many of us it has become the retail outlet of choice…no cars, no time wasted, lots of choices, and great prices—a wonderful service, no doubt. But, don’t get comfortable. Shopping online can be a nightmare. My recent experience was a wakeup call. 

I heard about the healthy Acaiberry herb from none other than Oprah Winphrey’s miracle Dr. Oz. Never before had I went online to purchase a product that was introduced to me on television. But, I found a site that allowed me to purchase a trial supply for only shipping and handling fees. Why not? What do I have to lose?
I gave them my debit card information and waited for the product. Nothing came. The $3.95 S&H charge was deducted from my bank account, but still no product. What a joke, I thought. Forget doing that again.

Unfortunately, not getting the product was to be the least of my worries.  A couple weeks later, I noticed a strange name listed on my bank statement along with a charge for $87.95. I also noticed other companies listed on my statement who were charging me for products I hadn’t authorized or received.

I called the numbers listed. Upon contact, they said within the fine print of the online purchase agreement was a condition stating I was obligated to intiiate a stop to any further products or charges within 7 days of receiving the product. But, I hadn’t received any product! And having kept a copy of the agreement, I knew I had agreed to pay no more than the the S&H fees. But, what good was that piece of paper? How could I take legal action against a screen on the computer or a voice on a phone? 

Have others had this problem I wondered. I went to my computer and typed in the name of the company along with the word “complaints”…and hit a payload…an endless stream of complaints. I was not alone. Their stories mimicked my experience. We all shared in the frustration of dealing with a company with which there was no concrete connection. There was no way to find out any more information about them than they chose to provide.

There was light at the end of this tunnel. I immediately contacted my bank to stop any transactions coming in from the company. Their response was startling. They were well prepared to help because they were very familiar with the problem.

The drama continues…at the very time I was talking with my banker, at the very time she was putting a hold on all transactions to my account, another illegal charge for $87.95 was coming through. Obviously, having just gotten off the phone with this fraudulent company, they’d decided to slip another charge through before I took action. We beat them to it, and their transaction was reversed—one minor victory. 

They immediately closed my debit card account and reissued another card, with another number, which stopped any further transactions from going through. They contacted their card fraud department, who after sending out a form for me to complete, pursued reimbursement of the illegal charges. Within 10 days all charges were credited back to my account—a major victory.

So here’s my tip. If you’re planning on many online purchases, it may be worth your while to work with an online screening company. At the very least, I’d recommend you Google the name of the company and the word “complaints” before you make the purchase. See what others have experienced. You may be surprised at what you find. As they say, information is power.

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.

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