Safer online shopping – what to look out for

Remember, if it sound too good to be true, it probably is

When you buy through the Internet you have as many rights in law as when you buy through other means. But read online advertisements, particularly those in emails, with caution; they can be deceptive in various ways. The same signs that arouse your suspicions in print and on television are apparent on the Internet.

Be cautious; there are many scams on the Internet. Be wary of any company that makes a product or performance claim that’s unlikely or just plain hard to believe. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Using your credit card online

Giving out your credit card details online can be made safer if you make sure that you know who the trader is; that you have the full business address before giving any information; and that the trader has an encryption facility which will scramble card details while in transit.

Select safe sites – those that display a padlock in the browser address bar and at the bottom of your browser when the payment screen is selected. The URL of secure sites start with https:// (the ending s stating that it is offers secure browsing).

https secure connectionThe padlock indicates https secure connection – via Stay Safe Online

Use these easy guidelines:

a. Shop with well-known retailers and services or personally recommended ones. Find out the company’s refund and return policies before you place an order.
b. Check how long delivery will take. Watch for additional charges such as VAT, customs duties, delivery and packaging. Some of these might be hidden. If there is anything you are not sure of, phone the company and ask for details of the product in writing, listing all the charges.
c. Because it’s easy to fake e-mail addresses, make sure you know who you’re dealing with before you give out personal information. Never give your password to anyone online, not even to your Internet service provider.
d. Read the privacy statements, they will indicate the uses traders make of the information which they collect about you and say something about the security which they apply to this information.
e. Always read the small print; and print out and save the contract and terms of business; it is very easy for the seller to change the wording on their web site after your purchase. Keep a copy (or take a note) of their advert, web page, and e-mail.
f. Take your time to decide. Do not be pressurized to buy before finding out everything you need to know. While there may be time limits for special offers, a good deal now will be a good deal tomorrow.
g. Check your credit account and bank account statements regularly. If you find an error or discrepancy, notify the financial institution and contest the error immediately. Even if you notify a company by e-mail or telephone to quickly report a problem, also send a written notice by certified mail to ensure your rights are protected. Keep a copy of your letter for your own files.
h. Google it! You’ll quickly pick up the complaints.
i. Research companies on sites like Better Business Bureau, Complaints Board and Ripoff Report.

Also see the tips given by the Google Safety Center.

Will the credit card issuer protect you?

Remember, you do not have the same protection if you pay by a debit or charge card. You may have some extra protection if you make payment using a credit card, even if you have only used your card to pay a deposit.

If you have a claim against the seller for breach of contract or misrepresentation – for example if goods were not supplied, were not as described or were faulty – you may also have a claim against your credit card issuer. This could also be useful if the seller goes out of business.


For a number of years there has been disagreement on whether credit card issuers are liable for claims involving cross-border transactions. Major card issuers do not accept any liability in those circumstances, but most of them have indicated that they will meet such claims on a voluntary basis, but only up to the amount of credit provided.


The law says that goods must be as described on the web site. If there is something wrong with what you buy, tell the seller as soon as possible. Email or phone, and make a written note of the conversation or keep a copy of e-mail correspondence. Note that if you signed an acceptance note on receiving goods this does not mean you have signed away your right to reject. You still have a reasonable time to examine them.

Letting the seller try to put faulty goods right has no effect on your rights – if the repair fails, you still have any right to reject that you had when you agreed to the repair. Once you have, in the legal sense, accepted goods, you lose your right to a full refund. You can only claim compensation, and you have to keep your claim to a reasonable amount.

You have the same rights when you buy goods in a sale as at any other time; the seller cannot get away with disclaimers saying there are no refunds on faulty sale goods. You also have the same rights even if you lose your receipt, but the onus will be on you to prove where and when you bought the goods.

If you buy goods privately you have fewer rights than when you buy from a trader. Privately bought goods do not have to be free of faults, but they must be as described. The general rule is ‘buyer beware’ so make sure you check that you are getting a good buy. Beware of traders who pose as private sellers. This is illegal and takes advantage of the fact that you have fewer rights when you buy from a private seller.

Scams most likely to arrive via bulk email

You may have noticed that your in-box has become swamped with commercial messages asking for money. This is the latest form of marketing: unsolicited email, or Spam, also known as ‘junk email’ or ‘bulk email’. Although many of these messages are from law-abiding organizations, some are from fraudulent traders making false promises they do not intend to keep.

Spotting bulk email is not too difficult:

  • usually it doesn’t contain the recipient’s address on the ‘To’ line of the email;
  • usually you are sent as a Blind Copy (‘BC’) recipient of the mailing;
  • the sender’s address is often a made-up name or the address on the ‘To’ line is identical to the one on the ‘From’ line.

Treat moneymaking schemes that arrive at your in-box with skepticism. Most of the time, these are old-fashioned scams, which include the following:

  • Work-at-home schemes
  • Promises of instant or rapid weight-loss
  • Opportunities for effortless income or instant wealth
  • Guaranteed loans or credit
  • Credit repair
  • Vacation prize promotions


Be skeptical of adverts that shout at you, like ‘THE SECRETS OF GUARANTEED SUCCESS!!!’ or ‘HOW TO MAKE A MILLION!!!’. And don’t fall for this trick: ‘This is not a scam‘.

Some scams will offer a ‘secret’ moneymaking method available ‘only to a select number of people’. But a typical scam reaches thousands of users. Also be wary of promises like “Congratulations. Our judges have declared you winner of a cash prize but you must respond soon” and “Your cash award is guaranteed and waiting to be sent to you” or “Don’t miss out on the best lottery in the world!”

If you are receiving unwelcome emails, contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) since they will often be able to trace it back to its source and put a block on future mailings.

Buying at an on-line auction

Beware when buying at on-line auctions as you have fewer statutory rights. Auctioneers, unlike other sellers, can refuse to accept responsibility for the quality of the goods they auction, so read the conditions of sale carefully. However, the standard terms of the contract (unless the seller is a private seller), will still be subject to the test of fairness.

Unfair contract terms

You are not bound by a standard term in a contract with a trader if it unfairly weights the contract against you. This applies particularly to exclusion clauses under which traders may try to escape their responsibilities. An example is ‘No responsibility for loss or damage however caused’. If an exclusion is unfair, it is legally void and cannot be used against you. Any exclusion of liability is always void if it is used for the purpose of evading liability for death or personal injury caused by negligence.

These terms also may be unenforceable: clauses that try to stop you going to court over a dispute; terms which prevent you from withdrawing from a contract while allowing the trader to do so; (most) clauses which give the trader the right to vary the terms of the contract (such as the price) without you having the right to withdraw. If you think a term is unfair, you may wish to get advice from your local citizens advice bureau.

It is an offense for a supplier to sell goods which do not comply with product safety legislation. This applies to both new and second-hand products, but not to antiques or to goods needing repair or reconditioning, providing you were clearly informed of this fact.

Go ahead! Shop now!

Shopping on the Internet is fun and can save you time and money. All you have to do is to make sure that your Internet shopping experience is safe with the simple but effective guidelines mentioned here.

Happy bargain hunting!

02/01/2010. Category: money. Tags: , .

You may also like -