CCPC advises Christmas shoppers not to take chances when shopping online

October 21, 2021

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is advising consumers to follow a number of simple steps to protect themselves from rogue traders when planning their Christmas shopping.

We are aware consumers may be concerned that COVID-19 and Brexit related shipping delays and stock shortages will impact their Christmas shopping plans. As many consumers may be starting their Christmas shopping earlier this year, we are advising consumers to be particularly wary of traders offering popular, high-demand Christmas goods for sale, and to follow these simple steps before they buy:

1. Always buy from reputable retailers

When shopping online, it can be hard to know who you are buying from, so it’s important to do some quick research. Check reviews, social media pages and where the business is based. If you can’t find this information easily, approach with caution. If the business is based outside of the EU, you may consider finding an alternative EU store to ensure you have stronger rights should an issue arise.

2. Buyer be aware

Be careful of small, unknown traders offering a high-demand product online or on social media that is out of stock everywhere else. Do some research, look at online consumer forums and on social media for additional consumer reviews or feedback about the business before you buy. Also, remember that while the price is important, don’t let it be the only deciding factor when buying online. A cheaper price doesn’t always mean a better deal and if it looks too good to be true, more often than not, it probably is.

3. Watch out for exclusively five-star reviews

When reading consumer reviews on business’ websites, be wary if all of the reviews are positive. It’s important to keep in mind that products and services with authentic consumer reviews are more likely to have a mix of consumer feedback across the rating scale. So, watch out for products or services with only positive reviews or exclusively five-star ratings!

4. Browse the website before you buy

Watch out for poor English, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, or language that doesn’t sound right. Just because a website has a .ie address does not mean it is an Irish registered business. You should also check that the website lists contact information, including a contact email address, phone number and geographical address. You can also look for VAT numbers or company registration numbers, as this information can be verified through government and EU websites. Reputable and legitimate companies will always list ways to get in touch with them, so if the website doesn’t have a ‘Contact us’ page, it could well be fraudulent. Additionally, if the site has a ‘Contact us’ page but only offers a form to fill out, be wary.

5. Pay securely

Consider using online payment services, such as PayPal or a pre-pay credit card, to avoid potential scammers getting a hold of your bank account details. Pre-paid debit cards or credit cards provide an extra layer of protection as there is no direct withdrawal from your bank account. Be alert to traders who offer a bank transfer facility, or request that you pay by card over the telephone, or to come into the store (sometimes a pop-up) to pay by cash. When you are paying, look out for a ‘s’ after ‘http’ at the beginning of the url and a padlock symbol in your browser’s task bar, which shows that the website is secure. If it isn’t there, be very wary of proceeding any further. Finally, keep all records, as it is important to have all of the details of your interactions with the trader in case an issue arises.

6. Check items as soon as they arrive

If you buy online, don’t just hide the boxes away until Christmas. Open the packages and check the items for any irregularities or issues as soon as they arrive. If you are buying children’s toys online, be sure to look for the CE mark on the product, in the instruction manual or on the packaging. The CE mark is essentially the manufacturer’s declaration that the product complies with EU safety regulations and standards. If there is no visible CE mark, it may be an indication that the toys do not meet the required safety standards and should not be used.

Gráinne Griffin, Director of Communications with the CCPC said,

‘We expect that high levels of online shopping will continue in the build up to Christmas 2021. Generally at this time of year we begin to see growing demand for certain products, which can lead to pressures on parents and families. This year we know that consumers have additional concerns regarding shipping and possible stock shortages.

It’s important for everyone to be aware that these are ideal circumstances for ill-intentioned or rogue traders, both online and in-store (including pop-up shops), to take advantage of consumers who are having trouble sourcing a particular product or toy. Therefore, we are asking consumers to follow a number of steps before they buy so that they have no unexpected surprises. Our website www.ccpc.ie also provides a range of information to help consumers whether they are shopping online or in-store, and our helpline at 01 407 5555 is there to assist any consumers looking for help.’

For more information on shopping online, visit here.

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