Law helps you shop online more safely – but don’t forget brick-and-mortar retailers

A consumer looks at Cyber Monday sales on her computer in Nov. 29, 2010. Retailers rolled out online deals during this year's "Cyber Monday." But now that shoppers are online all the time anyway, the 10-year-old shopping holiday is losing some of its luster.

The day you find a car mechanic you trust is a special day in anyone’s life. You’ll probably stick with that mechanic forever.

Same goes for dentists, car dealers, hairdressers and all manner of people with whom you develop a rapport and trust that they won’t rip you off, steer you wrong or make you look bad.

Trust is hard to come by, which makes our fascination with and reliance on online shopping all the more perplexing.

On Etsy, you might learn a little about the person who designed a piece of jewelry. Part of Etsy’s allure is you feel you’re buying something from an artisan, not a factory.

But what of the direct-to-your-door-in-two-days outfits that sell, well, everything? What do you know about their vendors?

Odds are, nothing.

Fortunately, that is changing.

As part of the 2023 federal omnibus appropriation bill signed in December, the INFORM Consumers Act took effect this month.

The Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act targets the online sale of stolen, counterfeit and dangerous products online by requiring regular online sellers to disclose information about themselves.

When you know something about a person with whom you’re doing business, you can establish trust.

The law requires that online marketplaces collect tax, banking and contact information from high-volume third-party sellers – those who make at least 200 items a year for a combined $5,000 or more. That takes aim at smash-and-grab robbery operations that scoop up luxury goods and resell them online.

Online retailers also must have hotlines for information about suspected counterfeit or stolen items.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, introduced the bill.

“People deserve to know basic information about those who sell them consumer products online,” Durbin and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy wrote in a joint statement. “The bill is crucial to protecting Americans from scammers on the internet, and we’re thrilled our bipartisan legislation was implemented today.”

It’s a measure that, not surprisingly, won the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributers, the Toy Association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and just about every organization that works with brick-and-mortar stores.

But it has also gained the support of the Coalition to Protect America’s Small Sellers (including eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, Pinterest, OfferUp, Redbubble and others.)

This legislation will make it easier to find out about whom you’re buying that designer purse from – and whether it’s the real deal. At least it gives you some recourse.

But in this new age of worldwide commerce at your fingertips, this should be a reminder that retailers deserving of your trust operate and live in your community.

The Daily Herald