Xmas shoppers warned of online dangers

8 Nov 2006

With Christmas coming the online world is set to experience its busiest season and Irish online shoppers need to be aware of their rights regarding distance selling and fraud, the National Consumer Agency (NCA) warned yesterday.

The NCA has launched a new information campaign to inform consumers of their rights regarding distance selling and doorstep selling. The campaign includes a website, www.consumerconnect.ie, that includes interactive features to test consumers’ general knowledge of consumer affairs as well as the ability to file a complaint.

“As consumers, we shop increasingly by phone, online or from catalogues,” said Ann Fitzgerald, executive chair of the NCA and the director of Consumer Affiars.

“More and more, we are approached in our homes with opportunities to purchase products and services. Research shows that consumers are unaware of their rights in these areas and can enter into contracts without realising it. Also, many of them are unaware that there is considerable legislation that protects them even though they may not have made a purchase in a shop or where they are not face to face with the vendor.”

The campaign aims to alert consumers to their rights regarding distance selling and doorstep selling, alerting them to potential scams and how to avoid them.

Distance selling is defined by any transaction where there is no simultaneous presence of the supplier and consumer. Shopping online, by TV, by phone, by text message, by fax and by mail order all constitute distance selling.

The NCA is advising consumers to only make purchases from known or trusted websites.

They are also entitled to a seven-day cooling off period to change their mind after buying online, by catalogue or by phone.

It also reminds consumers that in terms of telemarketing and cold calling, it is possible to enter into a legally binding contract without signing a document and therefore it is vital to read the terms and conditions from distance sellers.

A recent survey commissioned by the NCA as well as through the European Consumer Centre found that the area of distance selling is of major concern to Irish consumers, who are neither aware of the pitfalls or the legislation that protects them.

By John Kennedy