When Things Go Wrong

Most online purchases are trouble-free. If the transaction does not turn out the way you expected there are a few things you can do.

What is the first step to take if I am not satisfied with my purchase?

Check the seller's website for a customer service page, "Contact Us" link, email address, online chat feature, or phone number to get your complaint addressed or questions answered. If you have a complaint, ask for what you think is fair-even if it's more than what the website's terms say you are entitled to. A merchant isn't forbidden to keep its customers happy by doing more than legally required.

What can I do if there is a charge on my credit card statement for a purchase I did not make?

Federal law gives you the right to dispute billing errors on your credit card through a procedure called a chargeback. To do this you must contact the credit card issuer, which may be a bank or credit union, a separate credit-card company like Discover or American Express, or a merchant like Sears or Macy's. Your credit card statement will probably provide a postal address to use for this purpose. You can also call the issuer by telephone and ask what procedure to follow. If you have online access to your credit card account, you may be able to initiate a dispute online. Don't delay-to preserve your rights you must contact the issuer within 60 days after the mailing date of the bill with the error.

Once the issuer receives your dispute, it will conduct an investigation. If it agrees that the charge is incorrect, it will remove it from your bill.

How can I file a complaint?

If you not satisfied with the seller's response, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started. You can also find your local BBB office by using the locator at http://www.bbb.org/ and contact that office by telephone or email.

You can file a complaint with the Office of the State Attorney General in your state or the state where the seller is located. Contact information for each state attorney general is listed on the website of the National Association of Attorneys General, http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php.

You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, http://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. If your complaint is about a merchant located in another country, you can file a complaint at http://www.econsumer.gov/english/.

If you are a victim of an online fraud, you should file a complaint with The Internet Crime Complaint Center, http://www.ic3.gov. Your complaint will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and regulators. The ICCC is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Filing a complaint might result in your receiving a refund, but this is far from assured. Even if you don't get a refund it is still helpful to file a complaint, because this helps law enforcement authorities identify companies that are engaged in illegal activities.

When can I expect my purchase to be delivered?

A Federal Trade Commission rule provides that a seller must ship your order within the time period the seller specifies, or within 30 days after the order date if the seller does not give a particular shipping date. If the seller can't ship the goods within the stated time period or within 30 days, the seller must notify you, and give you a chance to cancel your order and receive a refund. The seller also has the option of canceling the order itself and sending you a refund. This rule doesn't apply to products ordered on a cash-on-delivery (C.O.D.) basis.

If you haven't received your purchase or heard anything from the seller within 30 days (or the time stated for delivery) you should contact the seller and ask why the shipment is delayed.

What documents should I keep when purchasing online?

In case a dispute arises it is useful to have a record of your online shopping activities. You may want to hold on to the following:

  • A printout of the web pages showing the seller's name, postal address, and telephone number; a description of the items that you ordered; and the seller's legal terms;
  • Printouts of any e-mail messages (for example, confirmation messages) that you send to or receive from the seller. This includes:
    • Messages showing that the seller told you the product would be suitable for the specific purpose for which you needed it;
    • Messages in which you notify the seller of problems with the merchandise that you have received; and
    • Messages that show your good-faith attempt to resolve your dispute with the seller.
  • Notes or email confirmations of any telephone conversations that you have with the seller.

For the Lawyers

A searchable listing of FTC enforcement actions can be accessed at http://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings. A listing that can be sorted by subject matter is at http://business.ftc.gov/legal-resources/all/35.

The FTC's Business Guide to its Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (30-Day Rule)

To file a complaint with an agency:

Information about chargebacks:

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