Avoiding Online Scams & Consumer Rights

On 28 May 2019 Erin Duffy, Head of Litigation, was pleased to speak on air with the BBC Essex Radio presenter Sadie Nine regarding the prevalence of online scams, how they can be avoided and what consumers can do if they are caught out by a scam.

You can listen to Erin’s discussion with Sadie Nine by clicking on the link here from 36 minutes into the broadcast: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0785y9p

It has been highly publicised recently that many celebrities are having their image used in online scams, where they appear to endorse a product that they, in fact, have absolutely no connection with.

For example, the BBC weather presenter Carol Kirkwood recently spoke out at her outrage upon discovering posts on Facebook connecting her to use of diet pills and stating that she was leaving the BBC. These allegations were completely false and her image used without her consent.

Whilst these posts are, of course, damaging for the celebrity involved they also pose a real risk to consumers who believe the content of the post and purchase the product advertised, allegedly being endorsed by the celebrity shown. Often where a product is purchased the sum of money taken from the consumer’s bank account is a lot more than the consumer had realised and/or authorised. They may receive more of the product than they believed they had ordered or the product may never even arrive despite payment being made. 


Ways to avoid online scams:

1. If a deal seems too good to be true it probably is.

2. Check the relevant celebrity’s own website to see if they do in fact endorse and advertise the product. If there is no mention of the product, or they give a warning against it, then do not make the purchase.

3. Check the website address from where you are thinking about making the purchase. Does it match the company or product name? Does the website address begin with ‘https’? If it only shows as ‘http’ (without the ‘s’) then the website is not secure.

4. Watch out for poor spelling and grammar. This usually indicates that you are not dealing with a legitimate company. Most companies pay for their website to be thoroughly checked so it looks professional and doesn’t contain errors. If you spot poor spelling, grammar and use of the English language you should proceed with caution.

5. Check the returns policy on the company website to see what your rights are to return the product and get a refund.

6. Don’t pay by bank transfer. You have a much better chance of getting your money back, if it is a scam, if you have paid by debit or credit card.


What to do if you realise you have been scammed?

If after making an online purchase you realise it was a scam – perhaps because of the sum of money taken from your bank account or the amount of product that is sent to you – you should take the following action:

1. Call your bank to cancel any payments that have not already been taken if possible.

2. For payments that have already been taken from your bank account you can seek to reclaim these monies with your bank’s assistance in one of the following two ways if you used a debit or credit card to make the payment:

  • If you used a credit card for a purchase over £100, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, consumers can seek reimbursement from the credit card company since they are jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the seller.
  • If you used a debit card, you can use your banks ‘Chargeback’ scheme. There are no guarantees with this scheme that you will get your money back but the bank will attempt to reclaim the money from the bank that received your money. This scheme is particularly useful as it also applies to purchases under £100 unlike section 75 above.

3. Report the scam to the Police through Action Fraud (the national fraud reporting centre) by phoning them or through their website.

4. Speak to the Citizens Advise Consumer Service who will be able to advise you and report the scam to trading standards.


Unhappy with your purchase?

If you are simply unhappy with your purchase (not because of a scam) then remember you as a consumer do have protection under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Goods that are sold must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If something you have purchased does not meet these criteria then you are able to claim a refund.

If the seller is not willing to refund your money you may wish to consider taking legal action against them.

Erin Duffy and her colleague Joe Sandercock would be pleased to advise and assist you in this regard.