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NC AG Offers Warning For Cyber Monday Shoppers

Thousands of people clogged Charlotte's malls and parking lots over the weekend kicking off the holiday shopping season. But even more people are expected to fill their wish lists online today - Cyber Monday. And North Carolina's attorney general has a warning for those planning to play Santa online. Forty-five percent of people surveyed by a research firm called Compete said they planned to do their shopping on Cyber Monday, compared to 37 percent who said they'd hit the stores in person on Black Friday. The reasons are obvious to Misty Snyder: No lines, no parking lot jams. "It's more convenient, and all of the free shipping deals they're offering makes it worth it, says Snyder. The Monday after Thanksgiving has become a prime focus for retailers. But North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper warns online shopping can be costly for unwise shoppers. In a series of tips released in time for Cyber Monday, the attorney general recommends sticking to online stores that are well-known and not fly-by-night. Check with the Better Business Bureau if you're unsure. Also, the attorney general says read the return policy carefully to avoid getting stuck with large restocking fees and shipping charges. And keep in mind that overseas websites are outside the attorney general's legal jurisdiction if anything goes wrong with your purchase. Charlotte resident Danielle Goudy adds this warning based on her experience working in e-commerce. "Sometimes it's just marketing," says Goudy. "The deals aren't really any different than what they were previous days. So you just have to go out there and look and pay attention and make sure you're really getting something worth value." Goudy plans to be surfing the web for deals today. She also braved the midnight crowd at Concord Mills on Thanksgiving. Dedication like that is good news for retailers hoping to see a 2 to 3 percent boost in holiday sales this year. More Cyber Monday shopping tips from NC Attorney General Roy Cooper: * Shop sites you know and trust. Stick to established companies instead of fly-by-night websites. If an online merchant is new to you, research the company by checking with our Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau. You can also check online reviews of merchants and products to spot potential problems. * Do your own price comparison. Just because a website claims to beat prices at competitor sites or at brick-and-mortar retailers doesn't necessarily mean it's true. To get the best deals, compare prices online and off. Also, beware of counterfeit or knock off products that may not deliver the quality you expect. * Read the return policy carefully. Some online retailers won't let you return items to their local stores, while others may charge a restocking fee or may not let you return certain items if they've been opened. Many online retailers don't refund shipping and handling charges, so you may have to pay for shipping if you need to make a return or exchange. This can be especially costly if the item was shipped from outside the country. * Know how to contact the company if problems arise. Get the company's street address and telephone number and verify them before you place an order. Remember to be especially careful when shopping overseas sites, since no U.S. or state agency has legal authority over business deals with companies in other countries. * Consider paying by credit card. If your order doesn't arrive or isn't what you expected, you can dispute it with your credit card company. Federal law also limits your liability to $50 if your credit card number gets stolen. Get a credit card with a low limit that you use only for online shopping. * Check site security before you enter any payment information. Look for a lock icon on the website and a web address that starts with "https." Remember to check your credit card or bank statement carefully to make sure that you aren't charged more than you agreed to pay, and report any suspicious charges to your bank or credit card company right away. * Ask when your order will arrive. Internet and catalog shoppers are protected by the Federal Mail Order Rule. By law, a company is required to ship your order within the time stated. If you aren't given a delivery date, the company has 30 days to ship your purchase once your order is received. If the item doesn't ship on time, the seller must let you know and give you a chance to cancel for a full refund. * Print out and save records of all online orders. Keep the product description, price, online receipt, order number and customer service number. Save any emails the company sends you verifying your purchase or updating you on the status of an order. * Protect your identity. Guard your Social Security, driver's license and bank account numbers when you shop online. Only share financial information via secure sites, never by email. Don't respond to unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls that ask for your personal information. To check out a company with the Attorney General's Office or file a consumer complaint, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina. Consumers can also file complaints online and get more holiday shopping tips at www.ncdoj.gov.