As people head online in search of a Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas bargain, Citizens Advice has issued advice on how to avoid falling foul of misdescribed, counterfeit and unsafe goods.
The cost-of-living crisis continues to hit household budgets, meaning many are turning to online offers in an attempt to get a head start on their festive shopping. There are risks to buying cheaper goods though and in the past year, the charity’s consumer service has seen one case every two minutes of someone purchasing potentially faulty products online.
The launch of Citizens Advice’s top tips coincides with National Consumer Week (14 November- 20 November). The annual campaign is run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), which includes Trading Standards and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Citizens Advice is urging online shoppers to:
- Do your research: Before buying from a site you haven’t used before, spend a few minutes checking it out. See what people have said about the person or company you’re buying from by looking at reviews on different websites – don’t rely on reviews the company has put on its own website.
- Be wise to scams in disguise: If a bargain seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it’s branded but a lot cheaper than it appears on the brand’s website, it could be fake. It could be a legitimate ‘look-a-like’ product. Either way, it might not be the quality you were hoping for.
- Ways to pay: Beware of a seller who asks you to pay by direct bank transfer. Bank transfers provide limited protection if things go wrong, so avoid using them. You should only send and receive money through the online marketplace app or website using a debit or credit card, or via trusted methods of payment such as PayPal.
- Know your rights: If you’ve bought from a retailer you might be entitled to a replacement product or a repair of your faulty goods. You can even claim a full refund if you can prove the goods are faulty. If you’ve bought from an individual, perhaps via an online marketplace, you have far fewer rights. In fact, you have no right to return, so long as the goods are ‘as described’. Always be sure to take a screenshot of the description, and be sure to check and double check before you buy.
- When things go wrong: If you’ve bought something that is broken, damaged, unsafe or not what you expected then contact the seller and give them a chance to put it right. If that doesn’t work, reach out to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “With the rising cost of living hitting people’s budgets, many will be doing what they can to secure the best deals in the run-up to the festive season. Sadly, we know opportunists and scammers will be readying themselves too – preying on people’s money worries, and selling fake or faulty goods.
“Even the savviest shoppers can run into difficulties, especially online, where it can be harder to make sure you’re getting what you bargained for. With everyone feeling the pinch, it’s vital that shoppers know how to shop wisely, know their rights, and what to do if things go wrong.”
John Herriman, Chief Executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said: “The reality for many families this festive season is that the cost-of-living crisis is putting huge financial strain on just getting by from month to month, with very little, or no cash spare for treats. But it’s no surprise that parents still want to create the magic at Christmas with a pile of presents under the tree, and to do that they may look to buy toys and goods from online retailers and marketplaces.
“It is a sad but true fact that not everything we buy online will keep our families safe, and although Trading Standards work hard to make sure safe products do not make it onto UK marketplaces, the scale of the problem is just too vast. National Consumer Week is the perfect time to remind consumers about shopping safely online, and I like to refer back to the golden rule of ‘if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is’.
“Reporting concerns to consumer helplines like Citizens Advice enables Trading Standards to get a full picture of the risks to consumers and take the appropriate investigative or enforcement action.”
Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: “As the cost-of-living crisis really starts to bite, our buying behaviour is changing. More people are looking for bargains than ever before, with new NTS data revealing eight million people are newly tempted by counterfeit products as pressure on finances mount.
“Many think buying fakes doesn’t do anyone any harm, but counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. The criminal trade damages legitimate businesses and aside from being poor quality, fake electrical goods can be a fire hazard, while copycat toys can pose huge risks to children due to small parts, accessible batteries and toxic chemicals. Even seemingly innocuous fake designer clothes and accessories cause huge harm as this trade props up organised crime such as drug trafficking, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation.
“My message to the criminals exploiting people’s money worries is that they will not get away with it. Our teams are working relentlessly to identify and bring them to justice and I would urge the public to help us by reporting scams to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.”
If you can’t resolve the issue or would like extra consumer help and advice, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or on 0808 223 1144 for Welsh-language speakers.