Online Scams That Never Go away

The Fashion Quick Fix

Being able to buy clothes or other fashion items online and across borders is of great benefit to consumers in the majority of cases, but, unfortunately, there are situations where it hasn’t turned out so good and they have been the victim of a dodgy fashion website.

ECC Ireland receives reports about certain online fashion traders who rip off consumers by sending clothes/shoes that are either of inferior quality, the wrong colour/size or product altogether, and even damaged. When consumers try to complain they often find out that the trader is not actually based in the EU/EEA but further afield like China, and then they struggle to get a response or adequate refund or replacement. Some have even returned the offending item, at their own expense, never to hear from the trader again, and obviously lost the money too.

When bad reviews and bad ratings on review sites start to appear, the scammers behind these domains simply change the website/brand name – sometimes don’t even bother changing the look of the site, just the domain name and anywhere the company name is mentioned.

The website remains the same but because domains can be bought cheaply, they are used to trade online for a short time – but enough to scam a few people before the site transforms again.

The Pesky Pop-Up

Pops-ups that could end up costing you more than you thought are a documented problem on line and on social media. Social media is by now a well-established marketing tool used by countless legitimate online retailers from all over the world. However, just like anything else, there are a few bad seeds who will try to use this medium to con consumers.

ECC Ireland and the rest of the ECC-Network receive numerous reports from consumers who have been blindsided by dodgy social media pop-ups and other similar aggressive advertising. While the majority of these complaints have involved beauty products others have been in relation to health-related items and even credit card offers.

The modus operandi is that consumers are shown enticing pop-up ads promoting a “special (limited) offer” or “free trial”. The consumer clicks on a link that usually leads to a contact form where you complete your personal and banking details for the “offer” or “trial”, with nothing charged initially. Some time later unsolicited goods may arrive on your doorstep along with a demand for payment and often a threat of debt collectors if this is not paid. Some consumers have not even provided the trader with a postal address, only an email, and then they receive an email with an invoice claiming that a contract had been entered into and that payment needs to be made.


The Refurb Rip-Off 

There is a big market out there now for refurbished phones, especially if consumers can get their hands on a cheaper iPhone as a brand new one could set you back quite a bit. While refurbished phones are available directly through manufacturers and perfectly legitimate new and second-hand phone sellers/marketplaces, ECC Ireland receives reports from consumers who have bought refurbished phones from some dodgy online traders only to encounter significant problems with their purchases later.

The cases reported include instances where the consumer has bought from an online trader with a domain name that looks like it is based in Ireland or the UK, but it is in fact based outside the EU/EEA or its location is hidden altogether.

There are numerous issues with such purchases. Firstly, it is difficult to avail of EU consumer protection legislation. Secondly, even when the trader is based in the EU, there may be another obstacle – the manufacturer does not recognise the consumer as the owner of the phone and therefore refuses to give assistance when there is a fault; similarly, the manufacturer will not fix a problem because the handset has been fitted with unapproved refurbishment parts. Thirdly, the phone is simply stolen goods – the phone has been blacklisted because it has been reported stolen, and it subsequently stopped working because it has been disabled remotely by the manufacturer or the original retailer.


How to stay  away  from  scams  

  • Do your research thoroughly before hitting the purchase button or agreeing to anything. When you’re shopping online for any kind of product or service it’s important that you know who the trader is and where they are based. Remember, if they are based within the EU/EEA then you have better protection under EU consumer legislation.
  • Watch out for traders who claim to be based within the EU/EEA but when you dig a little further (in the Terms and Conditions, doing a ‘whois domain’ search online, or a review search) it turns out that they are based elsewhere or for traders who have no contact information at all other than a contact form.
  • Know what you’re signing up for. Make sure you read the terms and conditions fully to find out what “free trial” or “special offer” actually entail – when do you start to pay, is there an automatic renewal/rolling contract, how do you cancel?
  • Always use a secure method of payment such as a debit/credit card just in case things go wrong. Never do a money transfer as once it’s gone, it’s gone. By using your card, you at least have the option to go to your bank/credit card provider to see if you can avail of chargeback and/or cancel an unauthorised payment. Other payment methods such as PayPal are also secure to use as they have protections in place.

    If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a scam then it is treated as a criminal matter and therefore these cases should be reported to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.


For more information read the ECC-Net’s Subscription traps in Europe report