Holidaymakers urged to shop around for the best bureaux de change rate deals

Trading Standards Officers with The Highland Council are advising holidaymakers and travellers to shop around for the best deals when buying their holiday money from local bureaux de change outlets.

The advice comes after a recent investigation was carried out by Trading Standards Officers into exchange rates claims made by businesses selling travel money. Officers visited a number of bureaux de change outlets in Inverness, including travel agents, banks, supermarkets, post offices, cash centres and national store chains, following a complaint that some were falsely claiming they offered the best rates locally.

Officers carried out test purchases of US currency and found that two travel agents and a cash centre in the Highland capital each advertised the “best rates in town” when this was found to be untrue. Although the three all claimed to offer the best rate in town they had differing rates from one another and in fact one was offering the worst rate of all outlets visited that day. 

Another national travel agent based in the city displayed a sign “Compare our prices – no need to shop around” when only a few streets away another bureau de change was offering the most competitive rate that day.  One supermarket chain was displaying leaflets which stated they wouldn’t be beaten on the price of US Dollars by specified stores “on the high street”, when actually a city centre outlet was offering a better rate. It was not clear that the supermarket was offering a “price promise” and thus was placing the onus on the consumer to do the shopping around before the supermarket would agree to match the lowest local rate.

Officers purchased 500 US Dollars and found the lowest charge was £300.39, at a rate of 1.6645 to the Pound Sterling, and the most expensive was £320.34, a rate of 1.5609. This was a saving of £19.95 between two bureaux de change outlets located only one street apart.  All the outlets visited offered “commission free” exchanges.

Officers also looked on the internet and found that shopping for holiday money on the web is not always the cheapest place. Some bureau de change websites that also have city centre outlets were found to offer a better rate in their Inverness branches than they offered on their own websites.

Principal Trading Standards Officer, Bob Jones, said: “Our best advice is to always shop around for the best deals, and that goes for all goods and services.  However, when traders entice consumers in with offers claiming they have the best local rates, the onus is firmly on the trader to ensure that such claims are true.  The consumer is led to believe they don’t have to do the legwork and should be able to rely on the trader’s claims.  If these claims are not true the consumer is being misled and we can take legal action to stop trader’s making false statements. Our officers took immediate action in these cases and the offending signs were removed.” 

Mr Jones further explained: “‘Commission free’ claims are also a bit of a red herring, the seller may not charge commission but the exchange rate may be less favourable, but it is still a very competitive market and good deals can be found. One good thing from this is that most bureaux de change no longer charge commission so it does make it easier for the buyer to make like for like comparisons between sellers, so don’t just stop at the first trader who offers commission free currency.”    

Officers are continuing to monitor the situation however, anyone with a complaint about bureaux de change rate claims should contact Consumer Direct Scotland on 08454 040506 or visit/write to Highland Council Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF.

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For further information please contact Susan Aird, Trading Standards Officer, The Highland Council, tel: 01463 228700.

Note:  The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibits commercial practices which have been deemed to be unfair to the consumer, such as untruthful claims including pricing matters. They came into force in May 2008 and amalgamate many of the consumer harms under previous legislation, such as the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

30 Sep 2009
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