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Seven in 10 people have been ripped off online

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Written by: Emma Lunn
09/02/2022
A poll by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found 70% of people had experienced misleading online practices such as businesses being dishonest with customers.

Consumers told the CMA their biggest concerns were about hidden charges (85% of respondents), subscription traps (83%), fake reviews (80%) and pressure selling (50%).

With almost one-third of all retail purchases now taking place online, after the pandemic fuelled a surge in internet shopping, the CMA has become increasingly concerned about the impact of these “sneaky” sales tactics on consumers.

The competition watchdog has launched The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off campaign, fronted by TV presenter and consumer champion Angellica Bell, to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading online practices.

Research commissioned by the CMA shows that hidden charges, subscription traps, fake reviews and pressure selling are carefully designed to manipulate shoppers. This can lead to wasted time and money, as well as anxiety and stress, and so cause significant financial and emotional harm.

The watchdog found 71% of people shopping online had encountered these tactics, and 61% described their experience as negative. This is exacerbated by the fact they are often hard to spot and people don’t know how to avoid them.

Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive, said: “As online shopping grows and grows, we’re increasingly concerned about businesses using misleading sales tactics, like pressure selling or hidden charges, to dupe people into parting with their cash.

“None of us would accept these tactics in the real world. But we might not realise how much they influence what we buy online. So, we’ve launched ‘The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off’ to help hand the power back to shoppers.

“We continue to crack down on practices that could break the law, such as fake reviews. But to tackle this problem from all angles, it’s vital shoppers are armed with the tools they need too. It’s only when we all know what these tricks are, and how they are designed to manipulate and mislead, that we are better equipped to avoid them.”

According to the UK-wide survey, many respondents reported that they had wasted money on a disappointing product or experience, spent cash they couldn’t afford to, or wasted time trying to undo the harm caused.

The majority (85%) of those questioned believed that businesses using such practices are being dishonest with their customers, with 83% being less likely to buy from them in the future.

Matthew Upton, director of policy at Citizens Advice, said: “While many firms play fair, too often we hear of online shoppers being duped by fake reviews, time-pressured claims or seriously dressed-up deals.

“We hope ‘The Online Rip-off Tip-off’ campaign helps shoppers spot underhand sales tactics – like offers that seem too good to be true or any pressure to buy now, and report them. By doing this we can help to bring unscrupulous traders to book, and all shop safer online.”

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