Your Online Order Didn’t Arrive?
Hope you used your CREDIT card. If not, you may be in trouble.
You should always use a CREDIT card for online shopping. You have built-in protections with a credit card. Under federal law, you’re never liable for more than $50 of any disputed credit card charge. The law doesn’t even matter anymore because virtually all competitive VISA, MasterCard, Discover Card and American Express cards offer zero liability as a standard feature. If you dispute a credit card charge, you WILL be credited that charge. Trust me. On the other hand, if you’re using your debit card online, you’re exposing your checking account — your cash — to cyber crooks and incompetent customer service.
Crooks and incompetence. The two-headed monster of online shopping.
I’m already dealing with it — with my mother. She ordered a $2,000 flat-screen TV online from a national electronics chain. The store inexplicably keeps auto-canceling either her order or its delivery. I had to contact the chain’s corporate office in Minnesota and get a corporate officer assigned to her case. All to get this national chain to do what it’s paid to do every day: take an order, ship an order.
Fortunately, my mother used a credit card for the TV purchase, so she can dispute the charge if corporate-boy doesn’t come through — what’s known as a chargeback. However, consumers have become their own worst enemies of this protection with a steady increase in chargeback fraud.
“Chargeback fraud occurs when cardholders dispute a transaction with the bank instead of contacting the merchant (first) for a refund,” wrote ChargeBacks911.com, a Florida-based advocacy group for corporations and small businesses victimized by chargeback fraud. “This can cover unintentional ‘friendly fraud’ — a consumer initiating a chargeback due to buyer’s remorse or not recognizing a legitimate charge on their credit card, for example — as well as deliberate abuse of the chargeback process.”
These advocates readily admit that chargeback fraud is difficult, if not impossible, for retailers to prove. They even wince a little when referring to it as ‘illegal.’ “Strictly speaking, it’s kind of a gray-area,” wrote ChargeBacks911.com. “Bank and card networks were required by law to create the chargeback process. However, the process itself is governed by card network policies, not the law. While there have been cases in which cardholders were charged with wire fraud as a result of chargeback abuse, such cases are exceedingly rare.”
Colleen Tressler of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Consumer and Business Education said this is what you should do if an online order does not show up:
- First, contact the seller.
- If the seller can’t help, dispute the charge. As we’ve established, if you used a credit card, the chargeback process will enable a full refund, especially since you reached out to the merchant first
- If you used a debit card, contact your debit card company (most likely your bank or credit union who holds your checking account).
The FTC even provides a sample letter for disputing debit card charges with your financial institution.
Social media is a useful tool in disputing online orders, too. I’ve always taught consumers to use the companies’ social media platforms to calmly, professionally and clearly express their frustrations. Your complaint via social media has power — because it’s public. “Companies monitor social media and may reply if they see you’re dissatisfied with their response to your complaint,” said Alvaro Puig, consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
There are also third-parties who can help mediate disputes between consumers and companies. Besides the Better Business Bureau, I also recommend GetHuman.com. It has an excellent track record in helping consumers “get a human,” someone real and in charge who can resolve their complaints. For lowering or negotiating lower monthly bills on everything from internet charges to utilities, I recommend BillFixers.com.
Puig and the FTC maintain that the retail industry — both in-store and online — must honor a rule (not a law, but a rule) as it relates to mail, online or telephone transactions and the delivery of products ordered in those transactions. The FTC calls it the merchandise rule. The commission breaks the rule down into four categories: shipping dates, delays, more delays and refunds:
- SHIPPING DATES. A shipper must ship your item within the time it says it will. If not, it has to ship your order within 30 days of the time you placed it. The clock starts when the seller acknowledges receiving your order.
- DELAYS. If the shipper cannot deliver your merchandise on time, it must tell you so and immediately give you both a new shipping date AND the opportunity to cancel for a full refund. YOU MUST RESPOND IN ORDER TO BENEFIT FROM THE RULE. That may sound obvious, but you don’t know how many times I’ve mediated a complaint where the consumer just stopped communicating — or never replied in the first place! — to articulate what he or she expected. The consumer just contacted me first instead of initiating his or her own dialogue with the company.
- MORE DELAYS. If the seller can’t honor the new shipping date, it must notify you with a choice: either another shipping date or the cancellation of your order with a full refund. Again: you must respond.
- REFUNDS. If you paid by cash, check, money order or credit card, the seller must give you a full refund within seven business days of the cancellation.
The Better Business Bureau offers these safer online shopping tips:
- RESEARCH BEFORE YOU BUY. Use BBB.org and online reviews, but be sure those reviews are real. How? By reading my blog about how to spot fake online reviews.
- DON’T SHOP ON PRICE ALONE. Carly Johnson of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education put it best: “This year’s ‘it’ game? For a great price in mid-December? From a seller you’ve never heard of?” Verify the retailer or e-tailer you’re shopping.
- BEWARE OF FAKE WEBSITES. Check the URL, look for bad grammar, check the age of the domain and search for contact information and a physical location.
- MAKE SURE THE WEBSITE IS SECURE. If the URL doesn’t start with “https:” …with that ‘s’ after the ‘http’…and a small lock icon on the address bar, that site is not secure for card transactions.
- PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS DON’T MEAN THE OFFER IS REAL.
- AVOID IMPULSE PURCHASES FROM ADS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. The BBB says scammers can track your buying behaviors and launch phony offers disguised as legitimate products or services from legitimate companies right on your social media platforms.
- BEWARE OF FAKE SHIPMENT TRACKING INFO. If you receive an unsolicited link to track a shipment, do not click on it. Make sure it’s coming from the company who sold you the product or from its authorized shipper, then go directly to the retailer’s site or the shipper’s site and type in the code to see if it is real.
The two most important things you can do online this holiday shopping season is 1. start early and 2. use a credit card. It’s a lot easier (and instant) to dispute a credit charge than it is to beg your bank to help you replenish cash lost from your bank account.
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