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Make Mail-Order Purchases Safely
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many shoppers try to avoid the holiday shopping rush by mail-ordering gifts, but while convenient at times, it can lead to more hassles.
Americans have always consumed goods through mail-order catalogs and with the popularity of the Internet, ordering merchandise has taken on a new dimension. A growing percentage of holiday shoppers are abandoning at least some shopping the old-fashioned way of standing in line, competing for items and handling objects before purchase.
Jan Lukens, consumer management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said keeping paperwork is the surest way to prevent mail-order fraud and to ensure the items received are what was purchased.
"Whether you mail, fax, phone in or place an order online, you should always keep a copy of the transaction," Lukens said. "Consider photocopying the order form or printing the online form on your computer so you can track the order and confirm you received the goods you requested."
Buyers without some such documentation have no way to prove they did not receive what they ordered.
"Any time there is a consumer complaint, the most important factor is documentation," Lukens said. "The people who document their activities and anything related to a consumer complaint are far more likely to have complaints resolved than the people with no paper trail at all. You are much more easily dismissed if you don't have documentation."
This documentation is useful to prevent fraud, but also to correct any mistakes when the order is filled and to track orders. Open packages once they arrive to ensure the correct items are included. Keep the original packaging and any receipts in case the item is returned.
"Most companies give you a clear process for returns, but it is important to know what to expect. Read the company policy to determine who pays the return shipping before you place the order," Lukens said. "You may not want to risk paying shipping both ways and have no purchase to show for it."
Call the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office at (800) 281-4418 to learn the local contact for any consumer ordering problems. The Federal Trade Commission is the consumer protection regulator at the national level and can be reached at (202) 326-2222 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notify the U.S. Postal Service postal crime hotline at 1-800-654-8896 if mail-order fraud is suspected from mail-order companies. Alert the Better Business Bureau of problems with consumer products and services. This organization does not get involved with solving individual problems, but can help prevent others from occurring.
To avoid trouble, Lukens encouraged buyers to only deal with reputable companies.
"Be careful of who you deal with and how you deal with them," she said.
To keep track of all the necessary paperwork, Lukens suggested creating a holiday file and placing all receipts, packaging, contact information, guarantees and other paperwork in one place.
"An efficient record keeping system makes gift buying much less stressful and returns are easier to make," she said. "Records help you stay on a holiday budget and if you do have a consumer problem or become a victim of fraud, you are prepared with the proper records.
"Don't let poor shopping habits take away from the joy of the season," Lukens said.