Holiday Shopping Tips From Attorney General Janet T. Mills

December 3, 2010

The internet offers endless possibilities for finding the perfect gift without even having to go to the store. Many consumers are concerned about the safety of shopping on the internet. With so many products and companies to choose from, how do you sort out which online retailers are legitimate and which to avoid? Following these tips will help protect you from online scams and rip-offs.

?Many resources exist online to help consumers navigate warranty polices, pick reputable retailers to do business with, and even evaluate the content of video games for their children,? stated Attorney General Mills. ?By doing just a few minutes of research, consumers can make informed decisions about the products they purchase online and protect themselves from scams and disreputable retailers.?

  1. Deal with reputable businesses. Many businesses and product manufacturers have lists on their websites or product packaging of the websites where you can buy their goods. These sites are authorized online retailers, and sell legitimate products. If you are not shopping at an authorized online retail store, do some homework to make sure the company is legitimate before purchasing a product online. Identify the company's name, its physical address and an email address or phone number so you can contact the company in case of a problem.

  2. Look for secure websites. Shop from online sites that display "https://" rather than "http//" in the address bar. Also look for the padlock image at the bottom of the browser. These details indicate that the website is secure and has a safe encrypted connection. Sites that do not have secure connections are not storing customer data in a secure manner and could put your personal financial information at risk.

  3. Protect your privacy. All businesses require information about you to process an order. Some businesses share or sell the information to other retailers. If you are not comfortable with the sharing of your information, you can shop only from businesses that respect your privacy. Look for the business' privacy policy on the web site. T he privacy policy statement should tell you what personal information is collected at the site and how it will be used, and give you an opportunity to refuse having your information shared with other businesses.

  4. Understand the terms, conditions and costs involved in the sale. Find out up front what you are getting for your money by getting a complete, itemized list of costs involved in the sale. Look for information about restrictions, limitations or conditions of the purchase, warranties and guarantees, and cancellation, return, or refund policies. For more information on your warranty rights visit our website at:

  5. Check the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings when shopping for computer or video games. Parents should be sure to understand the content of the games they purchase for children. Information about video game software ratings can be found at the Maine Merchants Association in Augusta or to the web site of the ESRB at

The ratings are in two parts. Rating symbols appear on the front of virtually every game?s packaging and include age recommendations, such as EC (Early Childhood 3+), E (Everyone 6+), E10+ (Everyone 10 and older), T (Teen 13+), M (Mature 17+) and AO (Adults Only, 18+). The rating symbol also appears on the back of a computer or video game box, along with content descriptors, which are brief words and phrases describing what?s in the game that triggered the rating or that may be of interest to parents.

For parents that wish to know more specific information about a game?s content, ESRB also offers ?rating summaries.? Available for all games rated since July 1, 2008, rating summaries provide a brief yet detailed description of the content in a game that factored into its rating, including specific examples. While they are not on game packages as are the ratings, parents can go online to look up rating summaries at home (via ESRB?s website at or in the store aisle with a mobile device using ESRB?s mobile website ( or free mobile app (

Curtis Picard, executive director of the Maine Merchants Association, thanked General Mills for her leadership in educating parents about the rating system.

?These ratings are a tool that empowers shoppers to know more about what they are buying and to make choices that are best for them,? Picard said. ?I applaud and thank Attorney General Mills and the ESRB for raising awareness about this valuable resource available to Maine people.?

Maine Attorney General (207) 626-8599