Q: How safe is it to give my credit card number to an online seller?
A: In general, it is safe to give a credit card number to an online merchant. It’s not advisable to use a debit card, however, since debit cards function to remove money almost immediately from your bank account and are far less protected from being lost or stolen or being used improperly. Credit cards cover losses from lost or stolen credit cards over $50. Even with credit cards, though, some banks are now restricting their customers' ability to dispute charges from out-of-state online merchants.
Avoid dealing with merchants who do not have a verifiable street address and phone number listed on their websites. When providing credit card information online, make sure the site is secure (https:// rather than http:// plus a “closed lock” symbol on your browser), and make sure you have an up-to-date browser with good encryption. It is okay to provide the “validation code” on the back of your credit card, but you should never supply a social security number to a merchant. Always print out a copy of the online order confirmation screen—and review your credit card records each month to make sure only legitimate charges appear, and if any suspicious charges appear, call your credit card’s fraud prevention line for assistance in checking their legitimacy.
Q: Is there any legal requirement for how fast goods I order are shipped?
A: Yes. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a “mail order rule” which provides that, unless another deadline is specifically stated by the vendor before the sale, goods ordered via the Internet must be shipped within 30 days. The customer must be notified of any delay and under some circumstances must be given the option to cancel the order. For more information, search for “mail order rule” on the FTC website at www.ftc.gov.
Q: Do I have to pay sales tax when I buy something through the Internet?
A: The days of “no sales tax” for online sales are quickly fading into history. For years, the Internet was a “no sales tax” haven. There have been many proposals in Congress to require sales tax on all Internet transactions, but none ever passed. (The “Internet Tax Freedom Act” does not affect taxes of online sales of goods and services, but only prohibits new taxes on the Internet connection itself.) In 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a green light to state efforts to require large online retailers to charge sales tax, even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state. Thus, the sales tax disadvantage to storefront merchants will come to an end as soon as states like Ohio realize that there is no longer any reason they cannot collect sales tax on online sales.
Q: Can I control how an online merchant uses the information I provide?
This "Law You Can Use" column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Robert L. Ellis, partner in the Columbus firm of Peterson, Ellis, Fergus & Peer, LLP. The column offers general information about the law. Seek an attorney's advice before applying this information to a legal problem. For more information on a variety of legal topics, visit the OSBA's website at www.ohiobar.org.