News item

A bitter pill to swallow...

Consumer advice organisation the UK European Consumer Centre is warning that the online purchase of health or beauty products such as slimming or diet pills and face creams could pose a potential problem for some consumers.

The UK European Consumer Centre has noticed a number of complaints and enquiries about the online purchase of such products in the past year or so. 

Andy Allen, UK ECC Director, said: “This is not a universal problem by any means: there are good health or beauty product companies supplying such items to consumers in an honest and above-board way under contracts which are fair.

“But equally some consumers are falling foul of online purchases of goods such as slimming pills and face creams which can only be called ‘scams’. On some of these sites, consumers may be billed a monthly fee of something like £90. Consumers are often unaware that this is a subscription as the initial price is misleading.

“The way these 'scams' work is by placing an advert say on facebook for a 'free trial' of slimming pills. The adverts can sometimes be a pop-up on another website too. The consumer clicks on the link and signs up to the free trial. The website will state that the pills themselves are free but the consumer needs to pay P&P so the consumer will insert their card details, thinking that they are only paying the £1.99 or whatever the P&P is. 

“There are no Terms & Conditions either, so consumers are quite right in thinking that all they will pay is the postage and packing. Consumers are receiving the pills and then find that larger payments are being debited from their account.

“When they complain, consumers are then presented with the Terms & Conditions which state that the consumer agrees to a subscription. This is often the first time the consumer is aware of the Terms & Conditions.”
 
The new Consumer Contracts Regulations which come into force in June 2014 state that a consumer will need to actively 'tick' a box to say they agree to any further payments. If a consumer is not made aware of any further charges, they will not be liable for them.  Pre-ticked boxes will also be banned.

Andy added: “People shopping online currently within Europe are protected by the Distance Selling Directive, which means that consumers have a seven working day cooling-off period, beginning the day after deliver of goods – during which a contract can be cancelled for any reason, including a change of mind. Consumers must notify the trader of the cancellation in writing and should then get a 100% reimbursement within 30 days.

“However, in some of these cases, the products are only distributed through a European channel and the manufacturer may be in America or the Far East, which makes getting a consumer’s money back more challenging.

“A subscription is technically all one contract with multiple purchases, so the consumer’s best hope of getting their money back may be either through their credit card company under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 or from their bank via the voluntary ‘chargeback’ system if a debit card is used.”

If the price of the goods is over £100 and the consumer uses a UK credit card to pay for it, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 may place equal liability with the seller on the credit card company for any breaches of contract (eg faulty goods, non-delivery of items, poor services or misrepresentation).

UK consumers can use the advice and support of the UK European Consumer Centre if they have a dispute with a trader based in an EU country outside the UK – 08456 04 05 03 between 10am and 3pm or http://www.ukecc.net/

Scams Awareness Month runs throughout May 2014.

ENDS 

Notes to Editors

For further information please contact UK European Consumer Centre’s press office on 08456 08 96 06.
 
Scams Awareness Month runs throughout May 2014 http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/extra/news-item.cfm/newsid/1488
 
Some key facts about scams (these figures were provided by Citizens Advice Bureau):

 

  • Every year more than three million people in the UK fall victims to scams
  • losing hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds
  • It is estimated that nearly half of people in the UK (48%) have been
  • targeted by a scam
  • Online shopping and auction scams were the most common fraud reported
  • in 2013 and cost UK consumers £63.6 million
  • Just five per cent of scams are reported
  • The main channels for scams are: web/email (30%) phone call/texts
  • (29%) letter/fax (14 per cent) in person (13%) other (14%)
 
Changes to Consumer Contracts Regulations from June 2014: 
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/266525/bis-13-1368-consumer-contracts-information-cancellation-and-additional-payments-regulations-guidance.pdf
  • UK European Consumer Centre consumer complaint line – 08456 04 05 03 


The UK European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net). There are 30 centres covering Europe, plus Iceland and Norway. The aim of the network is to provide advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK. The Network will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.

UK ECC can provide advice in the following main areas: buying goods and services, online shopping, internet auctions, holidays, timeshare and holiday clubs, air travel.

UK ECC is co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the European Commission. 

The UK ECC service is delivered by the Trading Standards Institute http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/

Media queries should sent to ecc@tsi.org.uk or by phone on 08456 08 96 06.

  • The UK ECC provides advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK and will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.
  • Consumers can make contact with the UK European Consumer Centre via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 08456 04 05 03 weekdays between 10am and 3pm.
  • If in doubt before you buy, contact our sister organisation – the European Consumer Centre for Services – for pre-purchasing advice: www.ukecc-services.net

DATE: 20 May 2014