Is it safe to shop online?
The vast majority of people shop online without any difficulty. Nevertheless, it is wise to take some precautions before you make any purchases.
- Ensure that the company’s full contact details are available on the website, including their postal address.
- Check if a company is reputable. If you do an online search ‘whois lookup domain’ then you can use the provided research portals to see the registration details of the website you are researching.
- Read the terms and conditions of sale carefully. In particular, pay attention to the cancellation and returns policies.
- Ensure that the payment section is secure. Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window (if using Internet Explorer) and check that the payment page address begins with ‘https://’. Click on the padlock to check that the seller is who they say they are and that their certificate is current and registered to the right address.
How should I pay?
A reputable web-trader will take payment security very seriously. There are several methods of online payment. See below for advice on each:
- Online credit or debit card payment. Paying with a credit card provides some degree of security against fraud.
- Payments can be made using a service like PayPal. Money is transferred between two electronic accounts which are topped up using a credit card or bank transfer and accumulated funds can be moved to a bank account. These services often include buyer and seller protection, allow instant payments, and give buyers a degree of reassurance in that the identity of the seller has been confirmed.
Escrow is not a form of payment in itself but acts as a ‘middleman’ and is sometimes used for high-value online purchases and auctions. Fraudulent escrow companies have been established; therefore it is important to use a trusted escrow service which has been recommended by an auction site.
Money transfer, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, allows money to be sent to numerous agents around the world from whom recipients can collect the money in cash. While it has many legitimate uses, especially for sending money to friends and family, this form of payment is not recommended for online auction or online shop payments.
When you purchase online you have at least 14 calendar days after receipt of the good or service to make a final decision whether or not to keep it. You should be aware however that distance selling legislation does not apply to certain bookings or services, including internet auctions, transport and accommodation bookings, catering or leisure services.
I did not receive the goods
Goods that I bought online weren’t delivered/were damaged, what can I do?
When you shop online you have the same rights as when you shop on the high street. In other words:
- If you purchase goods that are not of satisfactory quality you may be entitled to a repair, replacement, or refund, depending on the circumstances of the case.
- Any description of information about goods or services should be accurate and not misleading. If you have been given false or misleading information you may be entitled to a refund.
- Check the terms and conditions and the returns policy of the website in question. Contact the trader, outline the problem, and request a solution. If you cannot get a satisfactory response and the website is based in an EU state, Norway, or Iceland, you can contact the European Consumer Centre.
What are my rights when I buy goods on an auction site?
Internet auction sites differ from online stores in a number of key ways.
- When you buy something at an internet auction, you are not protected by distance selling legislation. Auctions are specifically excluded from this legislation.
- If you are purchasing goods from a private individual rather than a company, as is often the case at internet auctions, then the transaction is not covered by consumer legislation. A ‘consumer’ transaction is defined as one that involves a private individual buying goods or services from a seller acting in the course of his business, trade or profession. Accordingly, it excludes transactions between two individuals acting in a private capacity. However, all reputable internet auction sites offer purchase protection for the buyer, along with plenty of good advice about safe shopping on their site.
Tips for shopping online safely
- Make sure you have the name and full contact details, including postal address, of the web trader so you know who you are dealing with. Traders are obliged to provide this information. Never rely on just an email address or a post office box.
- Always research the background of unfamiliar web traders before purchase. A simple internet search should reveal any negative feedback about the trader left by other consumers. Beware of websites that have only recently been set up as fraudulent site come and go very quickly.
- Where possible pay by credit card, or with a debit card issued by one of the major credit card companies, as this offers the most protection. Never send cash or use a money-wiring service because you’ll have no recourse if something goes wrong.
- Check your credit card statement carefully to ensure that you have been billed correctly. Inform your bank immediately if there is a discrepancy as they may contact the vendor to clarify the situation.
- Try to shop from EU-based websites so that you can avail of the protections of EU legislation and access redress mechanisms if you encounter problems. Shopping outside the EU may also result in unexpected customs and tax bills. Don’t assume that a website is based in the country indicated by its web address e.g.‘.ie’ does not necessarily mean the website is based in Ireland.
- Make sure you use a secure website to enter credit card information. Look for a closed padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window and for the website address to begin with ‘https://’. Click on the security icon to ensure that the retailer has an encryption certificate, which helps to ensure that your personal information will be sent safely. Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall installed.
- Always read the small print and know exactly what you are agreeing to before going ahead with the contract. In particular ensure you are aware of the trader’s cancellation and returns policies.
- Avoid buying counterfeit goods. Such products are often dangerous or of poor quality and it can be very difficult to get redress should something go wrong. Bear in mind the sale of fake goods is illegal and is often linked to organised crime.