Legal Issues of the Internet
What legal protections are there for buying online?
As with catalog and TV shopping, Internet shopping carries a risk of fraud, since it's hard to assess the company without seeing a showroom or salespeople. On-line merchants are more ephemeral even than ones on TV—and possibly more fly-by-night.
At least with a phone number or P.O. Box, there is some paper trail to follow if you have problem. But a computer merchandiser's website may, for all practical purposes, be no more concrete than cyberspace itself. The business may not exist at all, or may be so undercapitalized that there is no telling if it can fulfill your order.
Therefore, there are special rules that protect consumers involved in mail or telephone transactions, including fax and Internet sales.
The FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Rule covers goods you order by mail, telephone, Internet, and fax. Under this Rule, goods that you buy through these means must be shipped within the time the seller has advertised (e.g., six weeks). If no time period is specified, the goods must be shipped within thirty days of your order.
If they aren't, you must at least have received a notice informing you of the delay and of when to expect delivery. The seller also has to offer to cancel your order and send you a refund within one week if you don't want to wait any longer. Many states have laws that protect you even further than the federal law.
For more information about being safe while shopping online, visit the ABA's informational site Safeshopping.org.
You might also want to visit the FTC's informational site on consumer protection and E-commerce and the Internet.
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