VOLUME 32, NUMBER 15 THURSDAY, December 7, 2000
ReporterElectronic Highways

'Tis the $eason to Be Wary

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"'Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the store, each department was dripping with Yuletide decor." (excerpted from http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/2049/nb4.htm#18.

Yes, the merchants are gearing up for another year of holiday sales, both at the malls and online. And whether this year's shoppers navigate toward their retail destinations using a steering wheel or a mouse, it is necessary that they remain cautious and aware of their rights as consumers. The Web can assist in making sensible and safe purchases for this year.

Rated "best consumer advice site" by Yahoo Internet Life, Consumer World http://www.consumerworld.org/ is a consumer's ideal metasite. Hundreds of product reports, reviews and price comparisons, consumer agencies at all levels, newsletters and other consumer resources are linked from its main pages. At the national level, Consumer.gov http://www.consumer.gov/ leads you to federal information resources. Clicking on the Product Safety icon will lead you to reports on recalls, test results and alerts about dangerous or risky products. From the site you also can access contact information for more than 200 federal agencies.

The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on holiday shopping http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/shopalrt.htm. These common-sense tips apply to shopping in stores, by phone or mail, or online. A similar article at the Web site for the National Consumers League's National Fraud Information Center & Internet Fraud Watch entitled "Ho-Ho-Holiday Shopping on the Internet" http://www.fraud.org/news/1998/nov98/112798.htm offers additional advice on online shopping.

If you wish to complain about an unacceptable product or service, or would like to investigate a company before purchasing, check with the Better Business Bureau http://www.bbb.org/. Its Web site offers information and advice for shoppers, both before and after purchases, and the "online complaint system" assists consumers toward holding unscrupulous businesses accountable for their practices. Currently, the BBB is compiling a database of reports, expected to come online in 2001.

The New York State Consumer Protection Board http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/ is the state's principal consumer advocacy organization. The Web site includes a Consumer Law Help Manual, press releases, online complaint form and links to agencies and other sites of consumer interest.

Finally, if you are shopping for children's presents, it would be helpful to review the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Toy Hazard Recalls http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.html before scooping up that toy xylophone or spinning-ride toy you might have been eyeing. The CPSC assembles reports on all recalls at this site, which is updated continually. This and the other consumer-friendly Web sites will ensure you will enjoy your holiday free of shopping pitfalls.

-Nina Cascio and Rick McRae, University Libraries

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