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Abusive practices

Do you know what to do when you have to manage an abusive practice?

If you are a European resident and you buy products or services anywhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, European legislation protects you against abusive or unfair commercial practices.

When advertising, selling or supplying products, the companies must provide exact and adequate information to allow you to be fully informed when you decide whether or not to make a purchase.

If this information is not provided, the commercial practice may be considered to be unfair. If you are treated unfairly, you have the right to appeal.

Unfair commercial practices:

  • Misleading practices, whether through action (providing false information) or by omission (hiding important information).
  • Aggressive practices forcing you to make a purchase.

The price indicated in an offer must include all the taxes and shipping costs. If there are additional costs which cannot be established beforehand, you should be advised of these immediately.

Contract terms must be drafted in plain and intelligible language. Any possible ambiguity will always be interpreted in favour of consumers.

In addition to the general requirement of "good faith" and "equilibrium", the EU legislation provides a list of specific terms that may be considered abusive. If the terms of a contract are unfair, they are not binding for you and the trader cannot invoke them.

  • If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you have not entered a draw, you can never win a prize.
  • Be suspicious if you asked for money upfront to claim your “prize”.
  • Be suspicious if you are asked for your bank account, credit card or other confidential information.
  • If the person who contacts you seems more excited that you might be.
  • If the person who contacts you wants to be your best friend.
  • If you are told that you must answer immediately or the money will be given to someone else.

General advice

If you have already sent the money, do not send any more. If you have sent your bank details, notify your bank and close the account. If you receive a phone call, remember:

  • Be careful- if you are not sure about the caller, hang up.
  • Never send money to receive a "prize".
  • Never provide your personal financial information or your bank details.
  • The banks will never ask you for your details over the phone, or via e-mail.
  • If you believe you are the victim of fraud, go straight to the police and give them all possible details. The European Consumer Centre Network is not able to mediate in cases of fraud as in this case it is not a consumer problem and it must be resolved by the police authorities.

Secure payment services accept and retain the buyer's payment, usually a transfer via bank cheque, payment order or credit card, until the buyer receives and approves the goods. Only then, when the goods have been delivered is the payment sent to the seller.

The use of this type of service may be useful and is a relatively safe way of buying products. However, in recent years the number of frauds in this sector has increased.

How does it work?

A seller puts goods on sale in an Internet auction and insists that potential buyers use a particular secure payment service. Once the buyers have made the payment to the escrow service, the buyer never receives the promised goods, they cannot locate the seller, or the company or obtain a refund of the money.

Tips for avoiding this:

Find out all you can about the seller.

Avoid business with traders who you cannot identify. Obtain the seller's phone number to have another form of contact. Call the phone number to ensure it is correct.

Be suspicious of the secure payment service recommended by the seller.

Study the web page carefully. The fact that the company has a web page does not guarantee that it is not fraudulent.

Call the company customer services line.

Never use a payment service that does not offer a phone number, fax or address. Call the number provided to verify that the number exists and works. If you are unable to contact a person, be suspicious.

Check that the company is registered.

If you are going to use a secure payment service, check all the credentials such as TRUSTe, Better Business Bureau and VeriSign Secure.

Contact these companies to check whether the company is registered.

If you are going to use a secure payment service, check all the credentials such as TRUSTe, Better Business Bureau and VeriSign Secure.

Contact these companies to check whether the company is registered.

Avoid companies who have sloppy web pages.

Obviously, the fact that a company has a magnificent appearance is not a guarantee that it is not fraudulent but grammar or spelling mistakes, inconsistent information or links which do not work may be indicators of a fraudulent page.

Many fraudulent pages copy the content of real pages and use names or domains which may lead to confusion.

The payment method may be a warning.

Pay special attention to the method of payment that the payment service asks for. If a company asks you to pay a physical person rather than a company, be suspicious.

Try to avoid payment service companies which use services such as Western Union or Money Gram.

Western Union is not affiliated to any secure payment service.

Look up the company on Internet.

Search for the company in Google, Yahoo, etc. If the search does not provide any results, be suspicious.

Be suspicious of "super deals".

If the price of the product is much lower than the market price, it is quite likely that it is a fraud.

The so-called "Nigerian letters" consist of an unexpected letter or e-mail promising highly profitable returns on business.

They are called "Nigerian" letters because, initially, the senders of the letters pretended they were Nigerian citizens or from other African countries.

The expectation of making a large amount of money with a few simple actions, is the attraction that fraudsters use to make potential victims forget the most basic precautions.

How does it work?

The method is very simple:

An unknown sender contacts the potential victim pretending to be a lawyer, member of the family, or close friend of an important member of the Government or an important business person who has died in an accident or during a political revolution.

Before dying, this person left a large amount of money in a bank account. The sender promises that they have legal access to this account and wishes to transfer the money to an account abroad.

They found the name and address of the potential victim on the recommendation of another person or by chance and the victim is the only person of confidence who can help them to transfer the money.

For their help, the victim is promised a percentage of the total amount of money and asked to be discrete while the business is conducted.

The victim must open an account in a certain bank to which the money will be sent.

The next stage of the fraud involves convincing the victim that the transfer of the money is underway. For this, the victim is sent seemingly official documents and false bank statements and letters.

A large number of letters, e-mails, faxes and phone calls are exchanged between the fraudsters and their victim to win their trust and to gain as much personal information as possible.

Once the fraudsters have persuaded the victim to trust them and that they are about to receive all the money, they tell the victim that some unexpected problems have occurred preventing the delivery of the money. 

It is essential that the victim pays taxes, special charges or fees to a lawyer. The fraudsters promise that this payment will be the last that the victim is required to make.

However, after this payment, new taxes and fees start arriving until the victim begins to suspect something.

As soon as the victim stops paying, the fraudsters disappear.

Sometimes, after a while, they contact the victim again, pretending to be investigators who know about the scam and offering to help the victim recover their money. This contact tries to obtain more money from the victim with the excuse of covering the cost of the investigation.

What should you do if you receive one of these letters?

  • Do not answer.
  • Never provide your bank or personal details.

What should you do if you have already contacted them or paid money?

  • Keep all the documents you have received and the messages sent.
  • Keep all the transaction documents.
  • Contact the police and follow their instructions.

This section contains certain suspicious behaviour that may help you unmask a fraud.

How does it work?

Fraudsters send messages, posing as banks which need to verify data, to obtain personal information (credit card numbers, passwords, etc.) from their victims.

In the message, the victim is asked to update or confirm information about their bank account. The victim is asked to enter a web page which is similar to that of the real bank, but is not the real page. It is a site created by the fraudsters with the sole intention of misleading the victim and persuading them to provide information in order to access their account.

How can I avoid this?

  • If you receive an e-mail asking for your personal or financial details, do not answer or click on the link given in the message.
  • Never offer financial details via Internet because real banks will never ask for them.
  • Notify the bank from which the e-mail is supposed to have been sent.
  • Use an antivirus and a Firewall and keep them updated. Some e-mails contain software which may damage your computer or track your activities on Internet without you realising.

The National Lottery warns against the fraud on their Web page.

Lottery frauds are increasing at an alarming rate. In many cases the fraudsters use names such as 'El Gordo', 'El Niño', etc. to make you believe they are talking about the National Lottery.

How does it work?

It works like this: the victim receives an e-mail advising them that they have won the lottery, even though they have not taken part in any type of lottery. They are asked to urgently contact an agent to collect the money.

The consumer contacts the agent who sends the consumer a form to confirm their identity and which must be completed and returned with photocopies of their passport or ID.

Once the consumer has provided all the details, they receive an e-mail offering them three ways of receiving the money: by bank transfer, opening an account in a particular bank into which the prize will be paid or by collecting the money in person (normally in a country far from the consumer's home).

Most people opt for a bank transfer to their account and this always involves the need for advance payment of lawyers' fees, taxes, insurance, etc. These payments are sent by Western Union or similar.

If the victim chooses to open an account at the bank indicated by the fraudsters, they will find that the policy of this bank requires the deposit of a large sum of money in order to open the account.

As soon as the transfer has been made or the money paid into the account, the fraudsters disappear.

What should you do if you receive an e-mail telling you that you have won a prize?

REMEMBER: If it seems to be too good to be true, it is probably a fraud.

Recommendations:

  • Do not answer any of these messages.
  • Do not send money.
  • Do not send or provide identity documents (or copies).
  • Never provide your bank account or card details.

What should you do if you have contacted them or paid money?

  • Keep all the electronic and text messages that have been sent or received.
  • Keep all the documents accrediting the transactions or payments made.
  • Immediately notify the local police and follow their instructions.
  • Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council (‘Unfair Commercial Practices Directive’).
  • Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts.
  • Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees.
  • Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 1998 on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products offered to consumers.
  • Directive 2006/114/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 concerning misleading and comparative advertising.
  • Directive 2009/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on injunctions for the protection of consumers' interests.