Lancashire’s internet Christmas shoppers could fall victim to unscrupulous sellers aiming to trick people out of cash, Trading Standards bosses warned today.
A week today - December 9 - is expected to be the biggest online shopping day of the year, and more than £11bn is expected to be spent on websites this month.
But the trend sparks an opportunity for fraudsters to dupe unwitting victims. More than 800 people in the county complained to Lancashire Trading Standards about sellers on the web, including misleading websites, e-Bay, Facebook, Gumtree and various social marketing websites in the last 12 months.
Tricks included subscriptions traps, where people fall foul of buying a free or trial products, then falling victim to subscription charges they were not aware of, while others reported receiving counterfeit goods.
Grandmother Janet Orr, 63, from Barnacre-with-Bonds, near Garstang, was browsing the Debenhams website when a separate pop-up advert appeared offering a ‘free’ beauty product trial.
The retired veterinary receptionist, agreed to pay the £2.99 postage for the ‘free’ products but was later debited two payment of £95 and £89 by the firm, which claimed it had been in the “terms and conditions”.
She said: “It was only when I checked my statement two weeks later that I saw the cash had been taken. I was fuming.
“I contacted the company and threatened to go to Trading Standards to which the woman replied she would not give me anything back, but that they would send me £100 back as a good will refund if I didn’t.
“I got the refund and reported them anyway.
“To someone used to online shopping the pop up may have looked dubious, but I’m not used to the internet world and it seemed genuine. People need to be aware of it.
“Needless to say the products did not do what they claimed either.”
Janet spoke as the Evening Post continues its Fake Lancashire series, in which Trading Standards have given us exclusive access to behind-the-scenes work to protect the county’s consumers.
Amanda Maxim, of Lancashire Trading Standards, said subscriptions scams were notorious, adding: “According to the complaints, consumers purchase a sample of the product or agree to a trial of the product for a small P&P amount.
“The terms and conditions say if the consumer fails to cancel the contract within 14 days, they receive an ongoing monthly supply of the product and payments are deducted from their bank accounts - however complaints suggest the product is advertised through pop-ups or other advertisements such as on Facebook where there is no mention of the terms and conditions.”
Many other complaints centre around counterfeit products sold on sites like e-Bay, Facebook, Gumtree, and officers are particularly concerned about toys and electrical products such as chargers, which could pose a fire risk.
Amanda added: “A large number of toy and electrical products are traditionally purchased each year in the lead up to Christmas. When buying such items, consumers should ensure that they make their purchase from a reputable trader whose contact details or existence can be verified – it can be hard to trace internet sellers when problems arise.
“Toy products should bear a CE marking and carry the name and address of a manufacturer or importer within Europe. Specific age warnings on toy products should always be observed by those buying toys, or those in control of young children when they’re playing with them.
“Lancashire Trading Standards regularly visits local importers and manufacturers to ascertain that systems are in place to ensure safety standards are met for toy and electrical products.”
For more on this story, see today’s Lancashire Evening Post and tablet apps.
In tomorrow’s Fake Lancashire series, the scam letters which tricked a pensioner out of £800.