ECC Ireland looks at how we shop now and what we should be aware of when shopping on- and offline…
Increased online spending over COVID-dominated 2020 also started to generate consumer problems that were not as common or as serious as before. Below we explore some of the pitfalls and dangers of shopping in the current climate.
With the ease and exhilaration of online shopping other unwelcome aspects have emerged as serious risks, namely “cybercrime (reported as the most prevalent type of fraud in Ireland), customer fraud and asset misappropriation”, according to the latest Irish Economic Crime Survey 2020 by PwC. An Garda Síochána also reports that Irish people have lost over €1.1m online shopping fraud in 2020 to date, with average loss was €2,306 per incident. Another survey by Bank of Ireland reveals consumers are increasingly worried about online fraudsters.
To avoid online fraud, traps, scams and schemes, it is important for consumers to remain vigilant at all times. Think before you click and stay safe online with these tips from ECC Ireland below. When shopping or making a payment online at any time, make sure that: The website provides a secure connection (the web address begins with ‘https’), displays an encryption certificate (a padlock or unbroken key symbol) and uses a verified payment processing provider.
- The website is a legitimate representation of the brand, and not a mirror or lookalike site; giveaways are misspelled brand names, no identifying details and prices that are too low for the mispresented site.
- Your computer/tablet/smartphone has the latest antivirus and anti-spyware software and an effective firewall.
- You don’t do your shopping on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks or hotspots where your details are vulnerable.
- You enable a complex password and 2-step verification by e-mail or phone when you register you payment method on retail sites.
- You use a credit card and/or third-party payment system (Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, etc.) connected to your credit card for all online purchases in order to eliminate the risk of fraud and avail of chargeback in case of a dispute.
- You protect your credit card by enabling security authentication such as 3D Secure which verifies the cardholder at every online transaction and prevents unauthorised use.
While online fraud has risen exponentially during 2020, it is also important to bear in mind that not all marketing ploys aimed at parting you from your money are fraudulent, but consumers should remain alert at other ways they can be enticed to make a purchase unintentionally or on impulse. Here are some of the issues you might come across both on- and off-line.
This involves any form of commercial communication in the print, online and social media that presents itself as non-commercial, but that blends in with other content published by a media outlet or user-generated content. Practices that may be problematic for consumer nowadays are:
- Native (online) advertising, which involves non-commercial and paid-for editorial content being placed side by side in magazines, websites and social media platforms, without specifying that the content is “sponsored” or making hard for consumers to differentiate even when the sponsored mention exists.
- Advertorials, which are editorial pieces that look and read like a publication’s own content but is, in fact, a paid advertisement and presents a positive opinion on a product or a sum of other positive reviews that are meant to promote the product.
- Influencer endorsements are used frequently in both traditional and social media to promote deals and discount codes from various brands and retailers, covering everything from fashion and beauty to clothing and tech. While these are well intentioned it’s worth keeping in mind that these deals are not verified in the smallest small print details so do your own research when you come across recommendations.
Ratings and Reviews
We all rely on product and retailer reviews to make an informed purchase, but as recent scandals have shown, these may be paid for or downright fake. While posting fake reviews is not illegal bar some exceptions, such as in the UK, digital marketers may fabricate or distort reviews to improve search-engine rankings that will attract consumers on search engines.
To spot potentially untruthful reviews, keep these few tips in mind:
- Beware of reviewer generic names, vague terms in product descriptions, repetitive phrases, short reviews laden with superlatives.
- Stay away from review aggregators or individual websites which feature reviews for unverified purchases.
- Don’t be swayed by an overall high rating; read the reviews to see if they are specific enough about their experiences with the product.
- Be aware that overwhelmingly product positive reviews may the result of a marketing drive where reviewers might be getting the products for free in exchange for a good review.
- Check multiple review sites for the same product in order to get a clear overview of how the product rates in customer satisfaction.
This involves an array of misleading practices that are meant to induce an immediate purchase decision. Examples of deceptive forms of marketing can be:
- Making an unsupported, subjective claim such as “best for” regarding the quality or effectiveness of a product that might mislead the average consumer to make a purchase they would otherwise not have made.
- Maintaining the impression of a limited sale offer that in fact has no time limit, such as marketing a product at XX% off this week for more than one week.
- “Bait advertising” which usually involve customers being “baited” with low prices but, when customers visit the store or get to the online sales page, they discover that the advertised goods are not/no longer available. “Switching” happens when customers are pressured into considering or purchasing similar, but higher-priced and potentially lower-quality products.
- Subscription traps, which entail involves unsolicited recurring charges that often come after a business induces consumers through a “free trial” or low-cost initial fee (such as shipping cost) to make a continuity purchase without
adequately disclosing that the subscription services involves ongoing fees and that there will be recurring charges unless they cancel.
- Inaccurate, incomplete or deceptive pricing information about the total real cost of a purchase transaction. Pricing manipulation can take the form of misleading competitor price comparisons, giving the false impression of price savings.
- False claims about the characteristics of the goods or service, or creating a false impression about a product or service, even if the information given is correct.
In Ireland, you can make a complaint against a trader that is responsible for
misleading advertising to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland here.
You can complain to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission if
you believe misleading or false advertising had a major effect on your decision to buy here.
UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES
EU law deems unfair terms and trading practices that prevents a consumer from making a free, fully informed purchasing decision. Any contract or Terms & Conditions of a consumer transaction must not create an imbalance between the rights and obligations of consumers and sellers/suppliers, respectively. Moreover, it is important that consumers are provided with a contract that is in plain, intelligible language.
In reality, however, consumers are more likely to be the weaker party to the contract and have no opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract or, indeed, have a clear understanding of the contract of sale. The most frequent examples of unfair contracts refer to one-sided order cancellation or refusal to deliver by the seller, terms that allow the seller/supplier a unilateral right to vary and interpret the terms of the contract, terms which restrict or hinder legal actions or the exercise of a legal remedy by the consumer, and the use of unclear, unintelligible language that might affect the process of arriving to a buying decision.
- Follow these basic tips to avoid unfair terms when making a purchase and entering a contract:
- Always read the Terms and Conditions, i.e. the small print when you commit to a payment, particularly when it comes to the conditions of a “free offer” that requests your credit/debit card details.
- Check and double check the cancellation policy for any product or service you buy, especially a subscription, and particularly after a free trial.
- Watch out for price variations whereby the final price to pay differs substantially from the amount initially advertised or mutually agreed.
- Look for the real prices for all goods and services when being offered a “free” service when in fact the real cost the “free” service is included in the regular price.
- Don’t be fooled by “special” rights offered by a trader that are simply your basic consumer rights under the law.
Read more on identifying and avoiding the use of unfair terms in consumer contracts and
the EC Directive on Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts in the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s latest guidance here.
VOUCHERS AND GIFT CARDS
Given that lockdown restrictions in 2020 have caused the repeated closure of shops, hotels and restaurants and due to ongoing uncertainty going forward, many Christmas gifts this year will be in the form of vouchers and gift cards for use at a later date. The “buy Iocal” campaign also means that people are encouraged to purchase vouchers as gifts from local businesses that will re-open in December 2020.
The Irish Consumer Protection Gift Vouchers Act 2019 awards clear and solid rights to consumers in Ireland. If you decide to give or receive vouchers for Christmas this year, keep these in mind:
- A gift voucher means that you enter into a contract with the trader.
- The voucher functions like cash, which you exchange for goods and services.
- In Ireland, vouchers have a 5-year minimum expiry date and the expiry date must be confirmed in a durable format (paper or electronic)
- You need not spend the entire gift voucher value in one transaction.
- If the balance remaining on a gift voucher is more than €1 the balance must be reimbursed to you.
Read the gift vouchers in Ireland FAQ here.
Finally, remember that shopping online offers great choice, value and convenience, and you have the same consumer rights as when shop on the high street. Indeed, in many cases, your rights are even stronger: if you buy something online in the European Union, you are covered by EU consumer law.
— EC Radio Ireland (@ecradioireland) November 26, 2020
Final words of warning
Be cautious when making online purchases with your smartphone. Smartphones may be less secure than ordinary desktop computers and can be vulnerable to malware. Be wary of clicking on links in message or emails. If in doubt – leave it alone. Consumers are also advised to avoid storing sensitive data such as passwords or financial information on their phones or accessing/using this information while using unsecure public Wi-Fi.
- Read our smart shopping tips here.
- All you need to know about your online shopping consumer rights here.
- Find out more on how to cancel and return a web order here.
- Learn how to obtain redress in and out of court here.
Keep your shopping and your technology safe at all times with these cyber safe tips:
Make sure you know how to spot fake websites and phishing attempts when shopping online this #CyberMonday Read our guidance on how to spot common online risks https://t.co/7nK7KRR0tx pic.twitter.com/zjSWiy6MR8
— Data Protection Commission Ireland (@DPCIreland) November 30, 2020