Consumers given advice on how to improve their online shopping safety

2019-05-08 06:00

IN the first quarter of 2019, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman Office (CGSO) fielded 11 787 calls from consumers who were making enquiries, following up on their complaints and lodging fresh complaints. The Ombudsman’s office also received 2 191 complaints — 696 more than for the equivalent period in 2018 where they received 1 495 complaints.

Ombudsman Magauta Mphahlele said: “While the majority of complaints we receive relate to poor service, defective goods, cancellation of contracts, overcharging and unfair contracts terms, we are beginning to see a steady increase of instances where these complaints relate to online purchases.”

The number of online platforms and stores where consumers can buy a variety of goods, usually at highly discounted prices, is increasing. Because the highly discounted prices are said to be available for a limited period, consumers are quick to make payment in order to benefit from the discount only to discover later that they have been scammed when the goods or services are not delivered or are not of the quality described.

While there are reputable online stores that have good customer service channels and cooperate with our office, we are particularly concerned by the rise of suppliers who contravene Section 40 and 41 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), effectively taking customers’ money and failing to deliver the requisite goods or services in return. This is unconscionable and constitutes false, misleading and deceptive representations in the marketing of the goods and services.

“Due to the amount of monies paid by consumers and the refusal to refund consumers or deliver the goods paid for, we have therefore taken the decision to name the suppliers who fail to make good when this happens with the intention to warn consumers to be careful when dealing with these suppliers and to prevent further losses,” she said.

The Ombudsman office also advised on the following precautionary measures:

• Check if the supplier is registered with the CGSO – the list can be found on our website or you can call our call centre. You can also check if there are previous complaints against the company

• Only use well-known and reputable online stores

• Check online reviews from previous customers on their Facebook pages or websites. Check negative reviews to establish what went wrong

• If prices seem too good to be true they probably are, so proceed with caution. Read their terms and conditions carefully, especially in relation to returns and refunds

• Ensure that there are valid contact details where you can lodge a complaint or query

• Keep a record of all transactions and conversations

• Check the description of the product carefully to ensure it is exactly what you need as you may incur cost if you change your mind and you want to return it

• Only pay on a secure site – look for https in the URL — and never e-mail or text your credit card or financial information

• Watch out for offers that make big promises — even if the company offers a guarantee. Big promises are sometimes a sign of a scam, so do your homework beforehand

• Look at the bottom line: are there any hidden fees that have not been properly disclosed? If there are, consider going elsewhere.

— Supplied.

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