Being stuck at home in lockdown has increased the demand for internet shopping. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in scams and interceptions to service so it is more important than ever to know your rights and how to protect yourself.
After helping us recover funds from a scam when buying a home projector, it turned out our business expert also spent five years working for American Express in their pioneering Disputes department and in the Fraud team. And we were delighted he was happy to share this knowledge for our readers.
How can you protect yourself when buying items on the internet?
If you are not present when making a purchase, you are covered by distance selling laws. This includes facebook shops and payments made over an app. It was a lot clearer in the past with Distance Selling Regulations as it was more specific about online purchases, but from June 2014 it changed to the Consumer Contracts Regulations which implemented European law. We don’t know what will happen to European law with Brexit, but it will take a long time to change things.
One key thing is that anything you buy online means you are entitled to cancel the order up to 14 days after receiving the item. There are some exceptions, like perishable items, tailor-made or personalized items, and some instances where a seal has been broken for CD’s, DVDs and software to limit people buying and returning them after copying. One key difference is the Distance Selling Regulations clearly stated minimum order value of £40, which immediately ruled out sale items etc.
The contract is between yourself and the seller for the goods purchased. This means up until the point you receive the item; it is the seller’s responsibility to get it to you to complete the contract. The courier service is an extension of the seller’s responsibility. And the best thing of all is any seller is responsible for local law if selling in that country. To really protect yourself, use Paypal or a credit card for the purchase – more on that later. Alternatively, use a retailer you trust like Amazon, who have a clear returns policy and know their obligations to a consumer.
In summary, the item has to be as described and arrive in good condition, within the timeframe given. And you can cancel at any point from buying the item until 14 days after purchase. This is often a sticking point with retailers who don’t accept after they ship that you can cancel. But in effect, until you sign for the delivery, it is still their responsibility. This also technically means you should not have to contact the courier company if your item has not arrived. But if you want the item, then it does make sense to make them your first point of call.
Before you even make a purchase, you need to do some research. In the golden age of entrepreneurs, more popup shops than ever are appearing online or on social media. They are likely to be unaware of their responsibilities, but the rules are clear on what they need to provide. Do your research on the below and take all reviews with a pinch of salt, these are often faked and designed to encourage purchases.
They should be providing:
- Business name, contact details and address
- An accurate description of goods or services otherwise could be construed as miss-selling.
- Price, including all taxes and any additional costs.
- Ways to pay
- Returns policy
- Delivery/Shipping arrangements – including costs and expected timeframes which they are expected to adhere to within reason.
- Contract details including minimum length and billing period
- Cancellation conditions for ending contracts and how orders can be cancelled
- Conditions for deposits
So do be wary of any of this missing, although many are just not aware of their responsibilities. Pay particular to the refunds policy and location of the companies. If they are in the EU gives you an avenue of the European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform. If they are based in China, you will get long delivery timeframes and potential issues with the quality of the product.
Either way, there is no harm simply searching the product name to see if you can get it cheaper elsewhere, or more importantly from a retailer you trust.
You can easily search Amazon’s wealth of products available but crucially have an easy 30-day free return process and clear return policy with 247 customer services. Even paying a little bit more for a smooth process is a lot better, and with Prime, you might get free next day delivery. That is tremendous peace of mind.
Once you have accepted delivery of an item, it is your responsibility until they receive it back again. So if you return, make sure you send it tracked and keep proof of return.
Your right to cancel internet purchases
Worth repeating this – Your right to cancel an order for goods starts the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive your goods. And that is just the timeframe for cancelling; you actually have a further 14 days to return the goods.
With cancelling, always do this in writing. Emails have time and date stamps which prove you did this within the period. If on the phone, ask for an email confirmation. This also applies if you get any refund, always ask for it in writing as this could be valuable supporting documentation.
What else is covered under Consumer Contracts Regulations?
Modern technology has opened up a world of easy purchases, particularly with apps and computer games. Children are common culprits when it comes to signing up to paid subscriptions with apps and games, and it is useful to see what subscriptions might be on your children’s phones.
Also, there are slightly different rules with downloadable content as it’s instant delivery. You must be asked to confirm and accept the content download. Once the content is used or watched, you will not be eligible for a refund.
Who can I speak to about a dispute if the company will not help?
Thanks to Section 75 of the Credit Card Consumer act of 1974, credit card companies are jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the retailer or trader.
So if you have paid for the purchase on a credit card, you can raise a claim through them. Goods and services not received is a breach of contract. In this instance, unless there is proof the item was delivered to you, the credit card company can refund you and charge the company back directly. This is usually only done after 30 days of the order date.
If there are other circumstances, you should contact your credit card company and speak to them. They may need reminding they are jointly liable but depending on the retailer contract with them; there are other chargeback options credit card companies have with a retailer including:
- Goods and Services not as described – This comes under misrepresentation. Slightly more complicated as requires independent validation, but it possible to dispute a poor quality imitation or miss-selling.
- Goods returned with no refund applied – You need proof of return in this instance.
- Refund applied but not received – If you have a copy of the refund in writing, after 30 days if there is no refund they can chargeback the retailer.
Paypal also has an easy disputes process to help.
If you need assistance with a merchant dispute, we recommend contacting the citizen’s advice bureau.