The European Consumer Centre in Ireland reported a 165% increase in complaints of unscrupulous online traders in 2013, and a further increase of 89% in 2014.
Some operators have been accused of promoting so called ‘free trials’ which they then charge a substantial amount of money for.
Grace Duffy, EEC Ireland, called the issue “an ongoing problem”.
“Consumers sign up for free trials of a product or service — usually skincare products or dietary supplements. The traders then charge them a lot of money because there will have been something in the small print that the trader would not have made clear initially. A lot of consumers have been caught out,” she said.
“These cases are difficult to investigate because a lot of these traders are located outside of Europe.”
One woman reported amounts totalling almost €1,200 had been deducted from her credit card after she signed up to a free trial for a skincare product from a trader purporting to be based in the Czech Republic.
The woman made contact with the trader and found she had been signed up to a costly subscription service. The trader agreed to cancel the contract and provided a partial refund of €677, but subsequently charged the consumer’s card again. She then contacted her credit card provider and was able to block further payments.
“The best thing for people to do is to research these traders thoroughly, said Ms Duffy.
“Even a Google search would be enough because quite often if a trader isn’t reputable there will be warnings online from fraud watching bodies or from other consumers.”
She advised consumers to read any small print and terms and conditions and to pay with a credit card.
Log onto eccireland.ie for more information or call 01 8797620. If the trader is based in Ireland, call the National Consumer Agency on 1890 432 432.