The annual report of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) published yesterday showed that more consumers are being fleeced as a result of the rise in cross-border e-shopping, with its Irish office revealing customers here are also being stung.
Ireland has its own European Consumer Centre office in Dublin, and the ECC-Net report showed that, last year, the number of complaints here linked to culture and recreation was higher than the average across all the European Consumer Centres.
Caroline Curneen of the ECC in Dublin said many of those complaints were linked to transport issues such as airline fees and package holidays, and to television companies who may have an office in the North but were offering services in the south.
But she said the Europewide trend of pharmaceutical and, in particular, slimming products was reflected in the experience of Irish consumers contacting the ECC.
“It is a huge problem,” she said, adding that the companies are usually based overseas and the method of sale — which typically advertises a free trial but which triggers a deduction from credit and debit cards unless stopped, meant the companies involved were operating in “a grey area”.
“It is difficult to take any enforcement action because they are difficult to trace,” saod Ms Curneen.
One company currently selling a slimming product has an address in Shannon, Co Clare, but is understood to be based overseas.
Overall, the ECC-Net had more than 72,000 contacts with consumers across Europe asking for advice about their rights or for help with cross-border shopping problems and handled more than 32,000 complaints.
Nearly two-thirds of complaints lodged related to online purchases (60%), reflecting the growth in online sales and a doubling in the proportion of internet shoppers since 2005.
Cross-border e-shopping is less frequent but another growth area and one in which the ECC-Net has advised high customer vigilance. According to the report: “One sector that generated considerably more complaints in 2012 than the previous year is the health sector, in particular when related to the purchase of non-pharmaceutical medical products, therapeutic appliances and equipment.
“This reflects a growing trend to sell products over the internet with misleading or unfounded claims – slimming pills for example.”
*72,000 consumer contacts.
*32% of complaints concerned transport sector.
*60% of complaints related to online purchasing.
*More than 50% of complaints resolved amicably or passed on to other organisations.
*Level of complaints in Ireland linked to recreation and culture far higher than European average.