The expressions "Free trial" and "For only 1 euro" on the Internet are favoured and often-used baits to attract consumers. During the past few years, the European Consumer Centres in the Nordic countries have received more and more complaints related to trial packages and products received without anyone having ordered them. The topic is dealt with in a joint report by the European Consumer Centres operating in the Nordic countries.
On the web, consumers click on various advertisements, which typically offer free or very inexpensive product trial packages. During the order transaction, the consumer gives the company his/her credit card number, for example to cover a nominal charge for postage or for the trial package. Later it turns out that the consumers have been deceived to commit themselves to a continuous agreement with numerous credit card charges and product consignments. The report by the European Consumer Centres focuses on these kinds of cases, in which the consumer has made him/herself a party to an agreement without knowing it.
"Also in Finland, many hundreds of consumers have become entrapped in this way, mainly through advertisements in Facebook. The problem created by the stream of rapidly changing web ads is that the consumer is unable to provide evidence about what the advertisement or offer that lead to the order was like at the time", Leena Lindström, the director of the European Consumer Centre Finland explains.
Basic tips for safe buying on the web
The European Consumer Centre's report says that consumers who buy on the web need more information to identify dishonest companies. There are many consumers who don't know what should be checked before buying on the web and what one can do if problems are encountered after the purchase. For example, it has proved difficult to show that the consumer did not receive all the essential information during the order transaction. For this reason, the report includes the before-purchase and after-purchase checklists for the consumers.
The European Consumer Centres advice consumers to pay particular attention to the following:
- always find out with whom you are doing business
- always read the terms and conditions of the agreement related to the ordering of a product or a sample; do not forget the small print
- if you order something based on a web advertisement, take a screen capture of the advertisement, and, if needed, of the various page views related to the order transaction.
Too good to be true? it probably is! Unfair Commercial Practices and Unsolicited Goods. ECC-Net, March 2013. (pdf)