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Citizens Advice warns buyers need to beware as thousands of people report being ripped off on online marketplaces

Posted 23/11/18

More than 13,000 problems with purchases on online marketplaces were reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service last year, new analysis reveals.

Recent polling shows a staggering three quarters (76%) of UK adults now use online marketplaces, which are websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products.

As customers turn to online marketplaces to bag a bargain in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Citizens Advice is warning people to be aware of the dangers.

This year’s National Consumer Week - which runs from 26 November to 2 December - focuses on customer rights when they buy from an online marketplace.

Analysis of calls to the Citizens Advice consumer service found:

  • More than 13,000 people reported issues with online marketplaces last year, being hit by an average loss of £215.

  • 50% of people who had problems, then had issues when they tried to resolve it.

  • Calls about problems with purchases on online marketplaces have increased by 35% over the past 4 years.

In one case handled by the consumer service a woman bought two “Gucci children's coats” off an online marketplace, only to spot reviews saying the coats were fake after she had paid.

The mother-of-two said: “The coats arrived and I was absolutely devastated. They looked absolutely awful. They looked so cheap, smelt like wet dogs and looked nothing like the picture.” She has a formal complaint in with the payment company about getting her money back.

The research also highlights the importance of knowing whether you are buying from an individual seller or a business. Over 50% of customers didn’t know they have fewer rights when they buy from a private seller, compared to if they buy from a business.

If you buy from a private seller the principle of “buyer beware” applies. This means while the seller can’t misdescribe the item, they can omit information. For example, if a laptop is described as being a silver laptop in “excellent working condition” but it’s faulty, you could ask for your money back. But if “excellent working condition” is missing from the description, you won’t be able to.

As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership suggest that people check all the product information carefully before buying something on an online marketplace. They also recommend that shoppers take extra care, like reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. This National Consumer Week, we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase - and their rights if something goes wrong.

“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buyers need to beware when purchasing items through online marketplaces.

“Before clicking the buy button, it is really important people check the product information available otherwise they risk being left out-of-pocket.”

Kelly Tolhurst, Consumer Minister, said:

“The UK’s consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world, but there is always more to do to ensure shoppers know their rights.

“We are clear that online marketplaces must ensure consumers are aware of the rights they have. With 76% of us now using these marketplaces this campaign from Citizens Advice will play a valuable role in helping ensure consumers can shop with confidence and know what their rights are should things go wrong.”

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“Products sold on online marketplaces can be cheap but people should be aware of the risks. National Trading Standards will continue its work to combat rogue traders who rip off consumers using these marketplaces, but we need the public to help us by making sure they are aware of the tell-tale signs an offer might be too good to be true.”

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:

"Easier access to online marketplaces has revolutionised the way we purchase goods, however this presents new challenges in keeping consumers safe. National Consumer Week offers trading standards and other consumer protection partners the chance to engage with businesses and consumers, and pave the way for safer marketplaces where all can thrive."

Ahead of National Consumer Week, here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:

Check the product details

This should include: photos; a description; cost of the item; delivery charges; contact details for the seller; and any cancellation rights.

It should also be clear if it’s being sold by a trader or private seller - this is important as your rights are different.

It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Take screenshots of the item you want to buy

This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website.

Use a payment method that protects you

You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer.

Go back to the seller if there’s a problem

Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute resolution service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair.

Getting your money back from a private seller

The product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back.

If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back.

Notes to editors:

  1. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  2. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  3. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
  4. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
  5. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  6. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  7. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
  8. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  9. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.



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