The Online Rip-off Tip-off

The online rip off tip off - competition and markets authority logos

Helping you spot and avoid sneaky sales tactics

These days you can buy almost anything online. But not everything is always as it seems. Some retailers use sneaky sales tactics to dupe you into parting with your money – often before you’ve had a chance to properly think it through. We’ve turned the online marketplace into a real street market to show you exactly what’s happening – and help you shop more confidently.

Take a stroll down Rip-Off Road… 

Look out for hidden charges

Unexpected compulsory fees, taxes or charges can often catch you by surprise. The total amount you’re charged might creep up as you get closer to checkout, as extra costs are bolted on to the original price. Avoid this by treating advertised prices with caution and checking you’re happy with the final amount. Shop around for the best deal and walk away if you need to.

Hidden Charges Tip-Offs
  1. Treat the original/headline price with caution – if it is low, it might be designed to lure you in.
  2. Watch out for any compulsory extra fees added in during the purchase process.
  3. Think carefully before you pay – check the basket or total price for unexpected costs before buying.
  4. Shop around – if you’re not sure about the final total price, check out other sites.

Think twice if you feel pressured

Some retailers might try to rush you into paying. Sites will say that stock is low, lots of people are looking right now, or that it’s only available for a limited time. This isn’t always true. So compare prices and availability on other sites, and ignore sales tactics that pressure you.

Pressure Selling Tip-Offs
  1. Always check at least two websites before buying; it pays to shop around.
  2. Think carefully before you pay. You might want to check the purchase with a friend/family member or sleep on it and come back tomorrow.
  3. Browse in incognito mode on your web browser to see if the countdown timer or clock on the sale has changed.
  4. Download a sales or price comparison/tracking app to see how prices change.
  5. Ignore ‘lots of people are looking at this’ messages.

Avoid subscription traps

Introductory offers are meant to be attractive. But some are too good to be true. They can mislead you into signing up for an unwanted subscription that can be difficult to get out of. Always check the terms of the deal. Know exactly what you’re signing up to, when your subscription will renew and how many hoops you need to jump through to unsubscribe.

Subscription Traps Tip-Offs
  1. Check out how to leave as well as how to sign up to a subscription. Is it a simple ‘click to cancel’ or is it more complicated, e.g. will you have to phone the company to cancel?
  2. Set a calendar reminder to cancel before the next billing date or the end of any trial period.
  3. Look beyond any introductory offer for ongoing payments and terms – when will you have to pay and how much will it cost?
  4. Do you have to provide payment card details? If yes – stop and ask why.
  5. Check your bank/payment card statements regularly for unexpected payments and if you see a charge you didn’t expect, contact your bank or card issuer for help.

Be aware of fake reviews

Some businesses pay or reward people for positive reviews. So don’t believe everything you read. Fake reviews are difficult to spot. Try reading the negatives as well as positives, find reviews on multiple sites, and look for specific details instead of generic remarks. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake Reviews Tip-Offs
  1. Look at negative as well as positive reviews.
  2. Check the dates of the reviews – be cautious if they are old or if they were all published close together.
  3. Look out for patterns or repeated phrases in reviews – it may indicate they were written by the same person.
  4. Be cautious of very high percentages of 5-star reviews.
  5. Does the review contain specifics about the product/service experience rather than just using general terms like ‘Brilliant’ or ‘Fantastic’? Real reviews often talk about specifics of the products, such as the quality or price.

Need a little help?

Citizens Advice, Consumer Council Northern Ireland and Advice Direct Scotland are the advice organisations that you can go to for further support regarding misleading online practices.

In England and Wales you can speak to Citizens Advice advisors to talk through and report a misleading online sales practice via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

Citizens Advice also provide additional guidance on misleading online practices on its website.