Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Hello Action Line,
I recently made a purchase from the website of a local medical company. Can you confirm that this is a legitimate business? I ask because they seem to simply charge people for products, and then not ship those products. They have not responded to emails requesting shipping information. Right after I made a purchase from them, the credit card number that I used to make the purchase was fraudulently obtained and used to make fraudulent purchases. This could, of course be a coincidence, but given all of this, I'm suspicious.
More and more often, consumers are shopping online. It sounds like you have been the victim of a scam. Anyone can post a website. Many sites can be created for free. If you decide to shop online, here are a few things you can do to make sure that you are shopping with a legitimate company:
Always check the company's reliability report with the BBB. We have millions of records of companies throughout the United States and Canada, and you can quickly check by going to bbb.org. It doesn't matter if the company is offering the lowest price if it has delivery or customer satisfaction issues. Be safe and check before you click.
Check out the company's website and look for the BBB Dynamic Seal and/or other business organizations
Make sure there is a physical address and customer service phone number for the company
Check the return policy carefully; watch for return shipping fees, refund policies and restocking fees.
Look for the "s" in the URL address on the checkout page. If it doesn't say "https:" run the other way. You are sending money to an unsecured site and that is always a red flag and a major risk.
Keep a record of your online purchase. Print out the page with the seller's name, address and phone number. Print out the page about the item you ordered. Print any email confirmation messages you get and any follow-up messages about problems in shipping.
You also need to decide if you are in a hurry for the item. Can you wait up to 10 business days for regular delivery and save a lot of money? Many online stores offer free basic shipping for holiday purchases. The length of your patience can determine your shipping charges.
A final word of warning whether you shop locally or online: Check and double-check on the amount of time you have to make an exchange or return. If you are shopping now for holiday gifts, there could easily be a problem with returns at the end of December or later.
Remember: If you have a problem with a company, call the BBB at 800-675-8118 or go online to www.bbb.org.
Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.