January 2015 eBulletin: gift vouchers, disreputable electronics sellers, free trial scams
With January all but over, the New Year is well and truly underway. 2015 looks to be a promising year for consumers and traders alike as new legislation on alternative dispute resolution comes into effect this summer, with further legislation on online dispute resolution following early next year. For the present month however, consumers may be booking a sun holiday away from the wintry weather or looking to shake up beauty or exercise regimens with a free trial of new products. When doing so, it is important to be aware of certain scams and to take steps to protect against being caught out.
This month’s eBulletin contains tips for recognising and avoiding such scams. We also take a look at your rights when using gift vouchers. Our consumer query of the month involves a consumer who was overcharged for a purchase while on holiday, while January’s success story relates to delayed delivery of checked baggage by air.
If you are experiencing problems with a purchase from another European country, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or click here. For information on your consumer rights in Europe, please see the “Popular Consumer Topics” section of our website.
Press and Communications Officer
Christmas may already seem like an eternity ago, but those who received gift vouchers can go on spending on presents – at least until the voucher expires. As vouchers often come with a limited validity period, it is important to check the expiry date and to make use of the voucher before the validity period runs out. Many traders do not offer refunds for any unused amounts. If no expiry date is provided with the voucher itself, check the trader’s website or contact them to enquire. It is also advisable to read any terms and conditions which apply as vouchers may only be valid in certain stores or for certain items.
Disreputable electronics sellers in the Canary Islands
ECC Ireland saw a 75% increase in complaints about disreputable electronics sellers in 2014. A majority of complaints related to traders based in the Canary Islands. As this is a popular holiday destination for Irish holidaymakers, it is important to be mindful of such traders. Many cases reported to our office involved instances of aggressive or misleading selling practices, such as consumers being misled into paying inflated prices for goods worth only a fraction of the amount paid. Other consumers reported being brought to “demos” at which multiple traders attempted to convince them to buy expensive products or supplementary items. Consumers should be cautious when looking to buy electronic items (such as laptops, cameras, or tablets) while on holiday. It is advisable to bring a companion when browsing and to take time to think about any offers and do some independent research. For more information, see our recent press release.
Free trial scams
Consumers thinking of signing up for a free trial this month should watch out for possible free trial scams. These typically involve trials for products like dietary supplements or skincare products and usually see the consumer sign up, often paying a small amount for postage and packaging, only to subsequently discover that they have been enrolled in a subscription service with costly monthly charges. ECC Ireland saw an increase of 89% in the number of complaints relating to free trial scams in 2014, with some consumers reporting that they had been charged up to €1,200. In order to avoid being caught out, consumers are advised to thoroughly research a trader before handing over any personal or financial information. Check for full contact details and verify these with further internet searches. This may also help to turn up any negative feedback left by other consumers or watchdogs. Always pay using a secure method of payment and ensure to read the terms and conditions and any small print closely. If in doubt, it may be advisable to take your custom elsewhere.
Consumer query of the month
While on holiday in Tenerife recently, I purchased a router at an agreed price of €50 from a local trader. However, when I returned home, I noticed that my credit card had been charged €2,989 for the transaction. Is there anything I can do to query this charge?
ECC Ireland has received a significant number of complaints about incidents like this, particularly in relation to traders in the Canary Islands. As the selling techniques employed by such traders may often be deemed misleading or aggressive, they may generally be considered an unfair commercial practice. These are prohibited by EU Directive 2005/29 on unfair commercial practices – however, the legislation does not provide for an automatic right of refund. In addition, the fact that much of the discussion between consumer and trader prior to the contract being formed was verbal means that it can be difficult to prove exactly what was agreed.
This information notwithstanding, we would first suggest that you make contact with your credit card provider and dispute the amount of the transaction. It may be possible for your bank to process a chargeback of all or part of the amount paid. If you have contact details or an address for the trader in question, you may also wish to consider contacting the local Municipal Consumer Information Office (Oficina Municipal/Insular de Informacion al Consumidor) in Tenerife. A list of local offices can be found here.
Success story of the month
A case was forwarded to ECC Ireland from our sister office in the Netherlands on behalf of a Dutch consumer who had recently travelled with an Irish airline. The consumer had travelled from Dublin to Amsterdam but, on arrival at his destination, his baggage did not arrive. He filled out a Property Irregularity Report at the airport and submitted this to the airline along with receipts for expenses incurred. His bag was later recovered but he did not receive a reply from the airline in response to his claim for reimbursement. Following the intervention of our office, the airline agreed to pay €104.95 to the consumer to compensate him for the expenses incurred during the time he was deprived of his belongings..
If you want more information on this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please contact us on 01 8797 620.