Updated: November 29, 2010 10:48PM
Dear Readers: If you're among the millions of Americans who will look for online deals today on Cyber Monday, here's hoping for flawless computer connections and nimble typing fingers.
And let's make sure we're shopping on reputable sites. The Fixer gets scores of letters from readers who've realized too late -- after they've been ripped off and only then checked for complaints with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer sites -- that the company with the great online deals was just a sham.
One obvious tip-off is a too-good-to-be-true price on the season's hottest electronics item or children's toy.
Also, before you shop, make sure your computer has updated software to filter spam and block viruses and spyware. Shop only on sites that protect your privacy as a consumer.
When it's time to pay, look for a Web address that starts with "https://" -- meaning it's secure. It also will have a lock symbol in the lower-right corner. Pay with a major credit card because it will offer you more rights to dispute a problem later.
Last, you do have some rights under federal law when it comes to shipping. Orders placed by mail, phone or online must be shipped by the promised date or within 30 days. If your order is delayed, you can cancel and demand a refund. For details, check out the Federal Trade Commission's Facts for Consumers at ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro28.shtm.
Many happy returns
The Fixer hopes all that stuff you buy and receive is just perfect. Because unfortunately, returning merchandise (unless it's defective) is a privilege, not a right. There's no law that allows you a certain number of days to get a refund.
So to avoid any unpleasantness this holiday season, make sure you understand the retailer's policy before you buy. Keep in mind, if you shop now, you might have a problem returning an item in January.
Also, stores sometimes tack on hefty restocking fees for electronics, so be especially careful with those purchases.
Save all your receipts in one envelope and save all the packaging if you think you might need to return an item.
And don't be a serial returner. Some stores use software that tracks the return of individual customers, and if you do it frequently or for too much money, they might blacklist you from making more returns.
Meanwhile, Consumer Reports last week (Nov. 22) announced its "naughty and nice" list of retailers' shopping policies. The full list is at ConsumerReports.org, but here are some highlights:
*CompUSA was "naughty" for imposing restocking fees of up to 25 percent.
*Macy's was knocked for basing its shipping charges on the dollar amount of the order, not the size or weight of the package. The base fee for standard shipping is $5.95 for orders under $25, to as much as $23.95 for orders of $300 or more.
*Verizon Wireless got zinged for a $350 early termination fee on canceled smart-phone contracts.
*Zappos.com got a "nice" designation for free shipping and free returns, including prepaid return labels.
*L.L.Bean also was "nice," for its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and liberal return policy.
*Costco got kudos for its open-ended return policy for virtually every item except home electronics, which have a 90-day return period.
*Wal-Mart made the "nice" list for accepting returns with no receipt. Most items can be returned for a cash refund (for purchases under $25), a gift card (for over $25) or an even exchange. However, more than three such returns within 45 days will require a manager's approval.
Special Web chat guest today
Chat live with The Fixer and Steve Bernas, president of the local Better Business Bureau, about how to get great deals while not getting ripped off on Cyber Monday. The chat starts at noon today at suntimes.com.
Getting the runaround over a consumer problem- Tell it to The Fixer at suntimes.com/ fixer, where you'll find a simple form to fill out. You'll also find a list of consumer contacts and tips. Because of the large volume of submissions, The Fixer can't personally reply to every problem. Letters are edited for length and clarity.THE FIXER HAS SAVED YOU $1,082,140: