New campaign aims to help online shoppers spot subscription traps and dodgy selling tactics

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a new campaign to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading online practices after becoming “increasingly concerned” about “sneaky” sales tactics.

A survey of 2,087 UK adults in January by the CMA found that seven out of 10 people have experienced potential online rip-offs such as subscription traps and hidden charges.

Almost one third of all retail purchases now take place online after the pandemic fueled a surge in internet shopping and the CMA’s study found that 71 per cent of shoppers have encountered tactics carefully designed to manipulate them into making choices with potentially financial and emotional repercussions.

These situations include subscription traps, which mislead a customer into signing up to and paying for an unwanted subscription that can be difficult to cancel, and unexpected compulsory fees, charges or taxes being added during an online purchase.

Others include pressure selling – a tactic used to give a false impression of the limited availability or popularity of a product or service – and fake reviews, which do not reflect an actual customer’s genuine opinion or experience of a product or service.

The research found that of those who had experienced misleading online practices, the biggest concern was about hidden charges (85%), followed by subscription traps (83%), fake reviews (80%) and pressure selling (50%).

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli 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.

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“None of us would accept these tactics in the real world. But we might not realize 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, its 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.”

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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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Consumer Minister Paul Scully said: “This Government is working to build back fairer from the pandemic by clamping down on misleading tactics, subscription traps and fake reviews. This means we’re shoulder-to-shoulder with consumers and the vast majority of businesses doing the right thing.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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