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Daily Q&A: Are those seasonal companies that pop up online for the holidays legit?

There seem to be many fly-by-night, seasonal outfits that pop up this time of year online. How can I ensure that they are legitimate and aren't going to rip me off?

With Halloween and into Thanksgiving and the December holidays, a number of seasonal companies do show up online and elsewhere. It is important to know who is legitimate and the proper way to conduct a transaction online.

"It may seem like you're getting a great deal by shopping online or last minute, but it's important for consumers to research the company and its shipping and return policies before placing an order," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Otherwise, you could find yourself without a costume or unable to return one that you did not want."

Here are some tips from the Bernas at the BBB for dealing with Halloween and other seasonal purchases online:

• Research the company. Look for full contact information on the seller's Web site, including a phone number, e-mail address, and a street address. Always check out the company on www.bbb.org before doing business.

• Read all terms and conditions carefully. Know the refund policy. Some stores may have time limits for returns and may not allow refunds for seasonal merchandise such as Halloween costumes. Others may only provide store credit for returns.

• Ask how long a store will operate. If you're buying from a seasonal store, ask them whether they will be open after the holiday and whether they will accept returns when the season is over. If not, consider buying elsewhere or taking more time to be sure the item is exactly what you want before making the purchase.

• Pay by credit card. If something goes wrong, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company.

• Guard your personal information. Only provide your credit card information online in a secure environment. Look for the prefix "https://" in the URL box which lists the website's address to be sure that the site you are using is secure.

• Keep documentation. Save copies of the order confirmation and receipts.

• Examine your costume as soon as it arrives. If it doesn't fit, or isn't what you ordered, contact the seller as soon as possible.

Question for the Consumer's Edge? Send it to ipenn@sptimes.com or twitter.com/consumers_edge. Questions are answered only in this daily feature.

Daily Q&A: Are those seasonal companies that pop up online for the holidays legit? 10/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 25, 2010 5:43pm]
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