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Overseas Shopping on Credit? Buyer Beware.

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Protect Yourself When Overseas Shopping

Ask the merchant about its return policies. Do not assume that an item is returnable. Practices in the country you visit may be very different than what you are used to in the U.S. If the merchant tells you it accepts returns, make sure you get that in writing. The same thing applies for return shipping charges: get them in writing.

Get a detailed receipt and keep it in a safe place. If you purchase more than one item but the receipt lists only a total, get an itemized receipt signed by the merchant.

Get an appraisal. If you are buying something unique or expensive (think jewelry or artwork, for example), get an appraisal from an independent third-party before you buy. If that’s not possible, make sure you at least get detailed information about the item in writing, signed by the merchant. The Fair Credit Billing Act won’t protect you if something is worth less than the price you paid for it. But it may protect you if the item turns out to be substantially different than what the merchant represents. As Worley’s case illustrates, however, even that may not be a slam dunk.

[Free Resource: Check your credit score and report card for free before applying for a credit card]

Free Credit Check ToolDon’t forfeit your purchase. Make sure you find out whether you will be able to legally bring the item back to the U.S. once you purchase it. Some items cannot be imported into the U.S. or your state and you won’t get a refund — even from your credit card company — if those items are confiscated. Even worse, you could be fined. The U.S. Customs brochure, Know Before You Go, provides information on restricted or prohibited items.

Find out whether you will have to pay duty. Some items are duty-free or may qualify under an exemption. But in some cases, including countries where a 100% duty is imposed, you could wind up paying as much in duty as the purchase price!  You’ll find details in Know Before You Go.

Get shipping details in writing and buy insurance if possible. Again, try to protect yourself by getting as many details in writing as possible. If a third-party other than the merchant is shipping the item, make sure you know where to complain or return the item if it is damaged during transit.

Choose your credit card carefully. Some cards assess foreign transaction fees of 2-3% of the purchase amount. While paying by credit card is the safest way to buy something overseas, that fee can be steep on a large purchase.

[Related Article: The Latest on Foreign Transaction Fees]

If you have purchased something overseas that you believe is a fake or has been significantly misrepresented, act quickly. Under the FCBA, you have 60 days (from the state the statement listing the charge was mailed to you) to dispute the charge. You can call the issuer to ask for details on how to dispute the charge properly, but always put your dispute in writing and send it certified mail, return receipt requested to the address on your statement for billing errors and inquiries. The issuer has up to two billing cycles to investigate your dispute. In the meantime, you can withhold payment only on the amount under dispute. Pay the rest of your bill or at least make minimum payments.

Worley’s situation had a (fairly) happy ending. We were able to put her in touch with someone at her card issuer who finally issued a refund. But she’s out the $290 she paid to ship the rug back. Still, she knows it could have been a lot worse.  After sharing news of her refund with me, she added,”I hope you still write about the dangers of shopping (overseas).”

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