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Shoppers being warned to protect themselves from rogue traders in lead up to Christmas

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has issued advice to consumers.

Image: Shutterstock

CONSUMERS WHO ARE planning their Christmas shopping early this year are being advised to follow a number of steps to protect themselves from rogue traders. 

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has said it is aware that consumers may be concerned that Covid-19 and Brexit related shipping delays and stock shortages will impact on their Christmas shopping plans. 

As many people may be starting their Christmas shopping earlier this year, the CCPS is advising consumers to be particularly wary of traders offering popular Christmas high demand goods for sale and to follow a number of easy steps before they buy. 

Always buy from reputable retailers

When shopping online, it can sometimes be hard to know who you are buying from.

The CCPC has said it’s important to do some quick research, check reviews and social media pages, and check 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,” it said. 

Buyer be aware

If you come across a product that is out of stock everywhere else, the CCPC has advised to be careful of small unknown traders offering these high demand goods online or on social media.

People are being advised to 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, while 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,” the CCPC said. 

Watch out for exclusively five-star reviews

When reading consumer reviews on business’ websites, the CPPC said people should be wary if all of the reviews are positive.

People are being advised 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,” the CCPC said. 

Browse the website before you buy

The CCPC has said people should 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, it has warned. 

Consumers are being advised to 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,” the CCPC said.

“Additionally, if the site does have ‘Contact us’ page but only offers a form to fill out, be wary.”

Pay securely

The CCPC has said people should consider using online payment services, such as PayPal or a pre-pay credit card, so as 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.

Consumers are being advised to be alert to traders who offer a bank transfer facility or those who request you to 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 an ‘s’ after ‘http’ at the beginning of the url and a padlock symbol in your browser’s taskbar which shows the website is secure. If it isn’t there, be very wary of proceeding any further,” the CCPC said.

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“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.”

Check the items as soon as they arrive

If items are bought online, it is being advised that people open the packages and check the items for any irregularities or issues as soon as they arrive.

If children’s toys are bought online, consumers are being asked to 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.

‘Unexpected surprises’

Gráinne Griffin, Director of Communications with the Competition & Consumer Protection Commission said it is expected that high levels of online shopping will continue in the lead up to Christmas. 

“Generally at this time of year we begin to see demand for certain products growing, which can lead to pressures on parents and families,” Griffin said.

“This year we know that consumers have additional concerns regarding shipping and possible stock shortages,” she said. 

Griffin said that “it’s important for everyone to be aware that these are ideal circumstances for ill-intentioned or rogue traders, online and instore 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,” she said.

“Our website 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 look for help.”

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