Don’t be caught out by ‘free’ offers and trials online warns Highland Council Trading Standards

Highland Council Trading Standards are warning other consumers to be on their guard when responding to online classified adverts or advertising features after hearing from Highland consumer, Ms Jessica Thomas.

Ms Thomas was attracted to an advertising article online promoting Acai berries as a slimming aid.  The product called ‘AcaiOptiimum Weight Loss System’ and Advanced Colon Slimming Detox’ and was offered to consumers on a free one month trial basis. The article stated that payments for either product would only be taken from purchasers, after the trial period had expired.  Ms Thomas felt that there was little risk in responding to the advertisement and completed the online order form, giving her name, address and credit card details.  

Ms Thomas had accessed the linked pages showing this product from a national newspaper, and thought therefore that the article must be genuine. However, she soon became concerned about the company as she found that the advertisement had changed its terms and conditions, after she had sent off her order. The free trial period had been reduced to only 14 days, instead of one month. Ms Thomas had not expected any payments to come off her account until she had received the product.  However on checking her credit card statement, she found that in fact two payments of £67.00 had already been deducted and this was just two weeks after she had placed her order, in July. 

Ms Thomas informed her credit card company of the unauthorised payments which had been taken from her account.  She has now received a refund of her money.  Ms Thomas is concerned that other consumers may not be so lucky and so contacted Highland Council Trading Standards.  

David MacKenzie from Highland Council Trading Standards explains: “Unfortunately, Ms Thomas was a victim of an internet scam, which has been circulating for some time, in different formats.   Previously consumers were being asked to sign up for a 14 day trial period through web pop-ups.  However, this advertising article appears to be more subtle in its approach.”

Mr MacKenzie warns consumers to be very wary of online advertising articles and classified advertisements as sometimes the identity of the seller is not always clear or easy to find.

David MacKenzie adds:  “We urge consumers to be cautious and to make certain checks before completing an online transaction.  Consumers can try to verify the legitimacy of an organisation or business by going online to two government backed information websites at either http://www.ukecc.net/ website or http://www.nominet.org.uk/.  Both these sites will search for domain names of websites and inform the consumer where the business is registered.  Consumers can check out therefore where the business is based, even if they give the impression that they are based in the UK by using a “.co.uk” address. The particular web site that Ms Thomas had ordered her goods from was registered under a different domain name entirely and this business is registered in the United States.”

Both Consumer Direct and Trading Standards nationally want to arm consumers with necessary information and avoid falling foul of these types of scams.   Consumers can find out more about how to protect themselves online by going to Consumer Direct at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk or calling Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06. 

To report a crime involving identity theft, fake goods or scams consumers can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit website: www.crimestoppers-uk.org/. For further Highland Trading Standards news please go to: www.highland.gov.uk

30 Sep 2010
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