Home court advantage

Net sales: Maryland prosecutors wrongly seek change in legal rules to benefit unwary local buyers.

June 10, 2000

THE INTERNET has brought a dramatic change to business, and virtual shopping has encouraged and expanded trade that might never have been possible before.

But it hasn't changed the basics of any consumer transaction, including the ancient warning: Let the buyer beware. In fact, the remoteness of Internet buyer-seller contact should strengthen that sense of caution.

The predicament of a Barbie doll collector in Allegany County underlines that necessity for wariness. She's trying to recover the $6,100 she spent for a collection of dolls she bought via the Internet. The merchandise was fraudulently misrepresented by the seller in Georgia, the disappointed purchaser claims.

In an unusual case now before Maryland's highest court, the state attorney general seeks the right to prosecute the Georgia seller in this state for fraud.

Permitting that would be a serious mistake, even though reported Internet fraud is soaring. Adequate federal legal remedies for interstate fraud exist. Courts and consumer protection agencies in the states of the sellers provide other recourses. Internet commerce only changes the medium of communication. It doesn't change the essential nature of interstate (or international) transactions.

Maryland courts should not be burdened with the complaints of disgruntled Internet consumers seeking a legal advantage. If there's a pattern of fraud, let the local authorities take action. Otherwise, let the buyer use existing legal remedies.

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