Call for more resources to tackle online rogue traders and fraud
A new national Internet action plan, backed by extra resources, would help protect the 20 million-plus people who now shop online every year, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) urged today.
'While the Internet provides a fantastic marketplace for shoppers, it also gives rogue traders the chance to make money, irrespective of the risks to buyers,' said TSI Chief Executive Ron Gainsford.
'Our local authority trading standards services, supported by regional enforcement teams including Scambusters and the new Regional Intelligence Network, are doing what they can to inform the public and businesses and to tackle crooks who target vulnerable consumers online.
'But I believe we need a national strategy and action plan to stay ahead of the rogues who are increasingly using the Internet, to ensure we share best practice and to enable consumers to go online in confidence,' he said.
His comments came during National Consumer Week, the TSI-led annual consumer awareness initiative, which this year focuses on the theme: 'Buying from Afar? Know What Your Rights Are!'
Mr Gainsford told the launch event, held at the Office of Fair Trading HQ in London: 'A national, coordinated strategy is needed to avoid us ending up with a postcode lottery for internet consumers, with some parts of the country better protected than others.
'We need a strong plan of action, led nationally but with regional expert support, to help reputable e-businesses get it right and to target resources at the conmen and rogues who will seek to exploit any weaknesses.'
His recommendations include ensuring extended and sustained funding for the existing Regional Intelligence Network, overseen by LACORS and the OFT, and for Scambusters, a trading standards-led initiative, to ensure they are able to direct sufficient resources at Internet-based crime.
Speaking at the launch of National Consumer Week, Consumer Affairs Minister Gareth Thomas praised the work of Scambusters, which is supported by nearly £2 million of funding from the new Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
'They have been working with police, local authorities and other agencies to crack down hard on some of the worst cross-border scams. The teams are making a valuable contribution to protecting consumers against those individuals who have no intention of complying with the law.'
Now TSI hopes the initiative's success will be supported with additional funding to ensure all regions of the UK have their own Scambusters team.
A series of recent high-profile product safety alerts on toys, electrical equipment and jewellery, combined with the findings of a comprehensive market study into Online Shopping by the Office of Fair Trading, demonstrates the need for action, he added.
During National Consumer Week, the focus is on explaining online rights to consumers and helping businesses understand their rights and responsibilities.
But the week also gives an opportunity to highlight examples of rogues using the Internet to exploit consumers, selling everything from potentially deadly electrical equipment to clocked cars to lame horses.
The OFT's study, published in June, commented that there were 'examples of good practice and promising examples of proactive work (on enforcement), although the picture varied across the country.'
Indeed, the report added: 'Actual enforcement of consumer protection could be more effective if it formed part of a national risk-based approach.'
The study also found that more than half of consumers don't know their basic rights when shopping online, and thousands of online businesses don't meet their legal obligations.
For more information please contact the TSI press office on 0845 608 4930 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
National Consumer Week 2007 was launched at the Office of Fair Trading offices in London on Monday. (Nov 12) The event is supported by Consumer Direct, the government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service.
The week - running under the banner Buying From Afar? Know What Your Rights Are! - has drawn especially upon the findings of a major fact-finding inquiry into Internet Shopping, compiled by the Office of Fair Trading over a 14-month period and published in June.
Notes to Editors
The Scambusters initiative was set up with funding from the fomer Department of Trade & Industry - now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - last March in three 'super regions' covering the South, Central England and the North East - to tackle rogue traders and gangs who move across the country carrying out crime. Their remit was to investigate complex inquiries involving doorstep cold-callers, deceptive selling and high-pressure sales tactics, particularly where the vulnerable and the elderly were the primary targets.
The Regional Intelligence Network
A network of 11 Regional Intelligence Officers was established last year with funding from BERR. The network is coordinated by LACORS and the OFT to work with local councils to improve intelligence gathering and information sharing about rogues operating locally, regionally and nationally. They work to the National Intelligence Model - an agreed national, multi-agency strategy which is designed to curb the activities of criminals operating on three levels: locally (Level 1); regionally (Level 2); and nationally or internationally (Level 3).
National Consumer Week
This is the 17th annual National Consumer Week organised by the Trading Standards Institute and for the third year in association with Consumer Direct, the government-funded consumer advice telephone and online service.
National Consumer Week is a platform to raise awareness about specific consumer issues and particularly to highlight new developments in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. It profiles the work of and is supported by local authority trading standards services across the UK.
Trading Standards Institute
The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.
Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.
TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.
They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.
LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) is the local government central body responsible for overseeing local authority regulatory and related services. These services range from protecting consumers against illegal doorstop selling to checking hygiene standards in restaurants and food factories.
Working with the Local Government Association in England as well as its counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, LACORS covers a range of services including:
- alcohol and public entertainment licensing
- animal health and welfare, both for farmed animals and animal establishment
- civil registration, including the births, deaths, marriages, civil partnerships and citizenship issues
- environmental protection of air, land, water and noise
- food safety and standards, including labelling, sampling and analysis
- food imports and exports
- gambling reform
- health and safety enforcement at work
- private sector housing
- trading standards
Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06
Consumer Direct is a Government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service that works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services. It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.
Calls cost a maximum of 4p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.