Consumer Advice

Sometimes the high street can seem a bit of a nightmare, full of pressure to spend on the latest ‘must-have’ gadgets and deals which look so unbelievably tempting it’s hard to resist. If you have children and they go shopping with you it gets even harder. Having to constantly tell them ‘No’ when they’re after new toys or their favourite treats may seem mean, however in the long term it will be better not only for your bank balance but also for your children themselves, as they will learn the value of money from an early age. If they see that they have to save up to afford the things they want, they will appreciate them much more and will have developed good spending habits that could last a lifetime.

Shopping online can be a really good way to get cheap deals, however be aware that you may need to be extra cautious to avoid scams. If you have any trouble with something you’ve bought, it’s important to know your rights – that way you can challenge the company you made the purchase from, knowing you’re in the right and have the law behind you. Often just presenting yourself in a confident manner and having some basic knowledge of your legal position will be enough to make people take your complaint more seriously.

All consumer advice is now provided by Citizens Advice, you can check out their website here 

Buying Online

Buying online can be a great way to save time and money and help you get the best deals without having to trail round a busy shopping centre. However, there are extra things you will need to be aware of when dealing with online sites.

Firstly, always make sure you shop around, just as you would when buying any product. Just because a product comes top on a price comparison site does not necessarily guarantee it’s the best deal as some companies may not be included. Take a bit of time to check different sites and also try to find reviews of the product and the seller if possible.

In terms of your consumer rights, you are better protected when shopping online than when you buy something in person. When you shop online with a UK-based company, you are usually protected by extra legislation which means you are entitled to:

  • Clear information about the product or service you are ordering.
  • Written confirmation of your purchase (usually by email).
  • A ‘cooling off’ period where you can cancel your order for any reason and receive a full refund. For goods (e.g. books) this ends 7 working days after you receive the item. For services (e.g. mobile phone contracts) it ends 7 working days after the order was made, unless you agree to the service starting before this, in which case it ends when the service begins. This rule does not apply to custom-made goods, perishables like flowers or food, unpackaged CDs or DVDs, newspapers or magazines, or betting, gaming or lotteries.
  • A full refund if you do not receive your goods within the time agreed (if no time was agreed then you are entitled to a refund if you do not receive the goods within 30 days).
  • Plus all the same rights you would get if you made the purchase in a shop – item must be fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality.

However, these extra rules don’t apply when purchasing financial services such as insurance or banking, when using an internet auction site (such as eBay) or in certain other circumstances – visit Gov.com for more information.

Here are some more top tips to remember when buying online:

  • If you use a credit card to make online purchases you may be protected under the Consumer Credit Act. This only applies if the product you’ve bought cost over £100, but can be quite useful if you are entitled to it. It means that in the event of a problem, you can claim a refund from either the trader you made the purchase from, or from your credit card company, so if the company you bought from shuts down or cannot be traced for whatever reason, your money is still safe. Always try to make sure you can afford to pay off whatever you buy on your credit card in full at the end of the month to make sure you avoid having to pay interest.
  • Take steps to make sure that the company you are dealing with is real and reputable. Always make a note of the company’s address – this should be a physical address and not a P.O. Box number. This is important in order to establish the company is genuine and is based in the UK – a ‘.co.uk’ web address is not a guarantee that a site is based here. Try putting the company’s name into a search engine and see what comes up – don’t trust any quotes from ‘satisfied customers’ given on the company’s own site as these could easily be faked.
  • Keep copies of email confirmations of your order and any reference number you are given.
  • Beware of scams– sites may look authentic but could be set up in order to trick you out of your cash. Before you buy, take time to look at the site carefully, find out all you can about the seller and contact them with any concerns you may have. A genuine seller shouldn’t mind answering your questions.
  • Be very cautious if you are contacted directly by someone you don’t know. This could be a sign of a scam. Ask yourself who the person contacting you is and how they have got hold of your details.
  • Never email your financial details to anyone – If you are going to enter them online make sure the page offers a secure payment option. This is indicated by the web address bar at the top of the page (where you type in the address of the website) when a site is secure it will display ‘https://’ if its unsecure it will display ‘http://’
  • If you think you may have been the victim of a scam you should contact the police, visit Action Fraud for more information. Around 4 million people fall victim to scammers every year, and this number can only be reduced if they report their experiences.
  • For those who are new to online shopping, the Money Matters to Me site may be helpful – It gives an introduction to online banking and an online simulator where you can see for yourself how the process of placing an order online works.

Scams

A scam is a dishonest or fraudulent scheme to con someone out of their money. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from fake ‘prize draw’ wins to con artists who exploit users on online dating sites. Action Fraud police offers a section of advice on common types of scams to help you protect yourself, visit their website here

Scams are often illegal, but it can still be extremely difficult to get your money back. You may find that the company has simply disappeared, leaving you with no way to trace where your money has gone.

Citizens Advice reports that four million people fall victim to scams every year, losing an average of £850 each. Here are some tips which can help you recognise and avoid the most common scams, for instance:

  • Be wary of anything which sounds too good to be true. If it seems like a bargain, always question how the seller can be offering it at such good value – it may be a scam.
  • Avoid dealing with anyone who contacts you out of the blue. A phone call, letter or email from someone you’ve never heard of can often be a sign of a scam. Ask them how they got hold of your details and request they do not contact you again.
  • Don’t be pressured into making a decision. Con artists often try to get you to make a decision quickly, saying that if you do not take the offer up straight away you’ll miss out. This technique can be used by legitimate companies as well as scammers, but is always something to be wary of. Take your time to think over the offer and if possible, discuss it with family and friends before you give any details or agree to anything.
  • Never give out your bank details. You should never give out bank, credit card or debit card details unless you are sure of the company you are dealing with
  • Check contact details. A good way to try to find out if a company is genuine is to make sure they have a full contact address, not just a phone number or Post Office (P.O.) box number.
  • Search for them online. Try typing the company’s name into a search engine to see what comes up. Alternatively you can search for them using Company Checker to check they are a registered company.
  • Don’t be fooled by professional looking letters or websites. Scammers will put a lot of time and effort into making these look genuine as they know the rewards will be worth it if they manage to convince you to part with your cash.

If you think you may have come across a scam, you can contact the Consumer Helpline on 0345 04 05 06 or report it online here

How to Make a Complaint

When things go wrong it’s important to be aware of your rights and what you are entitled to, however the process of complaining can seem very complicated and it’s easy to be put off before you even try.

The first step is usually to contact the seller. You may want to try to get in touch with them by phone initially, but if this doesn’t resolve the issue make sure you send a follow up letter and keep a record of this yourself in case things get taken further.

When dealing with the seller, try to remain calm and composed. If you are phoning them it may be helpful before you call to jot down some notes of what exactly the problem is, where and when you bought the product, any key dates so far in your dealings with the seller, details of anyone you’ve spoken to previously about the problem and what you would like to have happen now in order to resolve the situation.

Also, make sure you take notes whenever you speak to anyone so you have a record of all contacts. Jot down:

  • The name of the person you spoke to
  • The date on which you called them
  • Anything that they agreed to do (and the date they said it would be done by, so you can chase them up if necessary)
  • Anything that you need to do (e.g. you may need to send proof of purchase etc. If you do need to send them anything make sure you only send them a photocopy and keep hold of the original just in case)
  • When you are next expecting to hear from them (if you are expecting further contact)
  • Brief notes on anything else important that was said

If you are unhappy with the way the person you speak to deals with your complaint, ask to speak to a manager, or consider sending a letter. Citizens Advice have template letters here, which you may like to look at before writing your own, these should give you an idea of what to include and how best to express yourself.

If your complaint is still not resolved and you need to take the problem further, you can complain to Trading Standards here. If you have a problem with a company that’s not based in the UK and you have been unable to resolve in writing, you will need to contact e-consumer for information as they deal with complaints about overseas companies.