Colorado Bar Association offers tips to avoid shopping scams

— By WM. DAVID LYTLE

Colorado Bar Association president

As we approach the nation's busiest shopping season, the Colorado Bar Association hopes you will take precautions when shopping, whether online, in person or over the phone.

The following tips will help make your shopping experience safe and enjoyable.

- When online or phone shopping, it is best to avoid doing substantial business with a firm that has only a Web site or post office box. You could find the firm gone and untraceable after your purchase.

- Before contacting a discount vendor, make sure you have done your homework. If the vendor suggests an item similar to the model you selected, saying it's a better deal, don't buy immediately. Instead, check out the recommended item. It actually may be better than the one you originally selected, but remember to investigate first.

- Never pay in cash, checks or wire transfers when buying items over the phone or the Internet. Using a credit card gives you some protection against a vendor that ships something other than what you ordered or who fails to ship merchandise after charging your card.

- Beware of "gray market goods." These goods are items that were not intended for sale in the United States. While many gray market goods are made by reputable manufacturers, these items often are sold without a U.S. warranty or without instructions in English.

- Watch out for the "U.S. warranty" scam. Some vendors of gray market merchandise anticipate that buyers will ask for U.S. warranties. They will contract with a third-party repair service in the United States so that they truthfully can say the item comes with a U.S. warranty. Since these warranties generally do not match the depth of coverage available from the original manufacturer, it is best to ask if the product comes with the original manufacturer's U.S. warranty.

- Beware of shipping charge scams. Some discount vendors online or over the phone will quote a very favorable price for merchandise. The vendor then recovers some of the profit by adding an excessive cost for shipping and handling. Typically this cost is double or triple the actual charges. While catalog and internet shoppers typically pay postage and handling, it is important to see how much those charges are in relation to the actual postage.

- Watch for service contracts that cost too much. Some vendors talk about extended service contracts as a supplement to the manufacturer's warranty and disguise the fact that these are separate third-party contracts often for 10 to 30 percent of the value of the product. The vendor will present these contracts as an opportunity for the purchaser when they can be an opportunity for the vendor to add income.

- If you receive something you have not ordered, you can consider it a gift - after making sure that you or a family member didn't order the item and forget about it. If a vendor or company sends a bill for unordered merchandise, it is fraud and should be reported to the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and the Colorado Office of the Attorney General, http://www.ago.state.co.us/index.cfm.

Following these tips will help you take charge of your shopping experience.

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