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Online shopping

Is there some kind of a “black list” of disreputable foreign online stores?

It is not possible to keep a reliable, comprehensive and up-to-date black list of disreputable online stores. There are nevertheless ways in which you can assess the trustworthiness of online stores yourself.  Consider what information the vendor gives on the website. If the vendor has not provided clear contact details, it is best to take your business elsewhere. If you cannot find comprehensive and unambiguous descriptions of the vendor’s goods and services and clear information about prices, delivery times, warranty and your right to cancel, it is likely that you will run into problems with the vendor down the line. Pay particular attention to the methods of payment accepted by the vendor. What is especially important is that you can pay for your order by means other than bank transfer. A good way to find out about the trustworthiness of vendors is to google the vendor and to search online discussion forums for information about other buyers’ experiences. 

More information on the subject can be found in our newsletter article 10 top tips for safe online shopping.

I ordered a flat-screen television and speakers from a German online store three weeks ago. I paid for the goods in advance but I have still not received them. What should I do?

If you have agreed on a specific delivery time, the vendor has an obligation to deliver your goods on that date. If this does not happen, you can contact the vendor and specify a date by which you expect to receive your goods. As long as your deadline is reasonable, you can cancel your order and ask the vendor for a refund if your goods have still not been delivered by that date.

If no specific delivery time has been agreed, the vendor has an obligation to deliver your goods within 30 days of your order. 

There are rumours that an online store from which I have ordered clothes is about to go out of business. I paid for my order in advance. The company is not responding to my emails. Can the European Consumer Centre help?

If the company is still in business, the European Consumer Centre can
try to get in touch with the company. However, if the company is having trouble
meeting its financial obligations, there is very little that contacting the
company can achieve at this stage.

If the company has already gone into liquidation, there is unfortunately nothing that the European Consumer Centre can do to help you get your money. In these circumstances, the liquidator usually contacts consumers in due course and gives instructions about how to proceed with regard to any receivables. If this has not yet
happened, keep checking the company’s website for information about the
progress of the liquidation process and wait for instructions. In most cases,
consumers are instructed to file a claim with the liquidator (or sometimes a
court) by a certain deadline. Claims must be accompanied by copies of the
order, the order confirmation, payment receipt and the complaint sent to the company.

Depending on the country and the circumstances, you may need to hire a legal representative and/or pay for the process. In these cases it is worth thinking about whether you want to spend more money on the matter, as there may not be enough funds in the company’s estate to reimburse you.

If you paid for your order by credit card, your credit card company has an obligation to refund you. In these circumstances you should contact your credit card company. The terms and conditions of most banks stipulate that similar refunds are also available for debit card payments.

I placed an order based on an online advertisement according to which I would get a free product and would only have to pay for the postage. However, the vendor subsequently sent me more products and charged my credit card without my consent. What can I do to get my money back?

The general rule is that you can only be made to pay for goods that you have ordered. The onus is on the vendor to prove that the contract and its terms and conditions stipulate otherwise. Send a written complaint to the vendor stating that you did not order any other goods apart from the free product. Ask the vendor to refund you for any other charges on your account and about what you should do with the goods that you have received by mistake. Also tell the vendor that you will not accept any more deliveries of the product in question. If the vendor refuses to return your money and you paid by credit card, you can ask your credit card company for a refund instead. According to the terms and conditions of most banks, similar principles apply to purchases made with debit cards.

If I buy a digital camera from another EU country, can I demand that the vendor supplies me with a user manual in Finnish?

Under Finnish laws, consumers have a right to demand that a user manual be provided in Finnish and Swedish. However, vendors based in other EU countries have no obligation to cater for this right. Before you buy a camera from abroad, check in which languages user manuals are available. The same goes for foreign online stores that do not have a website in Finnish. However, if an online store advertises in Finland and has a website in Finnish and offers customer service in Finnish, it must also provide a user manual in Finnish, even if the goods are shipped from France.

What is the safest way to pay for goods and services ordered online?

From a consumer’s perspective, paying for goods in advance by bank transfer carries the most amount of risk. If paying for goods in advance by bank transfer is the only method of payment accepted by the vendor, it is worth seriously considering whether you want to go ahead with the purchase. If you decide to go ahead, research the vendor carefully and find out as much as you can about them online. It is often impossible to get your money back in these circumstances if the goods never arrive.

Never use a payment service such as Western Union even if the vendor recommends it or gives you tips on how to make the transfer safely. Western Union has actually issued warnings about money transfer scams.

A credit card is a safer option than a bank transfer. If you pay by credit card and the vendor fails to deliver your goods or the goods turn out to be defective, you can complain to the vendor as well as your credit card company. According to the terms and conditions of most banks, similar principles apply to purchases made with debit cards.

Some online stores accept payments through companies that offer payment processing services. As a rule, it is better to choose a well-known operator than a small new company. Some payment processing companies also offer consumers added security for online shopping, either for free or against an extra charge.

The safest option is to pay against an invoice or with cash on delivery, as you will then only have to pay for your order once you have received the goods. However, most online stores do not accept payment against an invoice or cash on delivery on international deliveries.

Updated 26.1.2015 Print