Being Wary Of Advertising and Internet Shopping
Internet shopping continues to expand and companies of all types are anxious to get online and claim their share of the profits. Similarly, consumers hear of 24 hour shopping from home and deeply discounted prices and join the rush into cyberspace. However, deception and fraud seem just a little easier to accomplish in the online world, and the fear of being misled may dampen shopper enthusiasm. If you want to shop on the Internet but are concerned about being misled by dodgy advertising scams, you should be aware that fraud is still fraud whether it is online or in the real world. There are regulations and codes designed to reduce misleading claims and provide consumers with some measure of protection.
Regulation in the UK
To some extent, advertising in the UK is self-regulated. The advertising industry as a group draws up a code that members then agree to abide by. The code essentially requires advertising to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. Advertisers admit a sense of responsibility to consumers individually and society as a whole. However, the mere existence of a code doesn't necessarily regulate the actions of individual website owners or independent internet sellers.
The ease of online advertising and the size of the potential market are almost an invitation to fraud and deception. In the online world, consumers are willing to be subjected to many more advertisements in a given time period then they would ever accept in the broadcast media or even in printed form. In addition to the sheer volume of advertising presented on the Internet, purchases can be made easily and swiftly. A simple mouse click can have all sorts of goods and services winging their way to you within the space of a heartbeat.
When you are faced with such an onslaught of advertising, how can you separate the genuine bargains from the attempts at fraud? There are no hard and fast rules, and technology changes rapidly, adjusting to shifts in consumer savvy. But here are some basic danger signals.
First of all, you should beware any unsolicited approaches. If you have an email account, you're probably quite familiar with the concept of spam. Most Internet users avoid even opening unsolicited emails. But advertisements may also come in the form of pop-up boxes, pop-under boxes and more. Given that fact that you are already visiting a particular website, advertisers can target these automatic sales pitches to align with your presumed interests. You should be exceedingly cautious about following the trail presented by an unsolicited advertisement.
Any pitch that pressures your decision with the use of deadlines or time limits should be taken at less than face value. Creating a sense of urgency is a time-tested, proven ploy to trigger impulse buying. Advertisements of this sort are not working in your best interest. Any decision to buy should be informed with complete information about a variety of factors. Being pushed to click within the next 30 seconds or so usually signals that there is something the advertiser doesn't want you to know.
Additional deceptive practices include invitations to send processing fees or making receipt of a reward or prize contingent on the purchase of an item. Any suggestion that funds should be transferred out of the country should likely be avoided completely.
If you believe that you have been misled by advertising on the Internet, you should begin by contacting the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA investigates complaints with regard to advertising in non-broadcast media. The ASA will attempt to determine if advertisers have breached the code that advertisers have agreed to. Be prepared to provide the ASA with as much information as possible about the advertisement, including reasons why you believe it is misleading.
A final word of caution: not all sites that claim to be UK-based are actually in the UK. The mere presence of "co.uk" in the web address does not guarantee a local physical presence.
Internet shopping is here to stay. The online retail world provides great opportunities to both sellers and consumers. However, as is true with any rapidly changing technology, it may take some time for regulations, codes and compliance to catch up and stay abreast of reality. Until that occurs, it will be up to you, the consumer, to practice due diligence in your shopping, and report online miscreants whenever they are found.