Internet fraud & scams

Normally, because of the “button solution”, European consumers should not encounter problems with “subscription traps” anymore.

Update: July 2014

The new consumer rights directive was implemented in 2012 in Germany.

The “button solution” requires owners of online stores to label the order buttons in a clear way, with indications such as “liable to pay for order” or similar. However, in rare cases, fraudulent traders still have not implemented the “button solution”, leading to consumers unintentionally activating a subscription online by registering on a website. In such cases, consumers should contact their ECC to seek help and support.

Some general advice about how to act on the internet:

Keep your personal data secret!            

During the registration process on certain websites, Internet users are asked for their personal data, such as their name or address. Always check the terms and conditions before, in order to verify if it is really worth giving such information.

Look out for hidden costs

A supposedly “free” offer is very rarely costless! if you have to give your bank account details, then the offer cannot be free. It is good practice to be cautious about free offers and double check if they are genuinely free of charge. Bear in mind that these scams tend to involve services which are typically free of charge (such as route planners, song texts, kitchen recipes etc.)

Don’t get trapped by free trial subscriptions!             

It is important to know what happens after the trial period ends. In most cases, you have to cancel the subscription yourself. Otherwise, the trial period automatically extends to a subscription with costs.

How to avoid subscription traps?

Do not subscribe to the offer, if you have any doubts.

Get to know the operator before subscribing:

Have a look at the contact details displayed on the website. If you do not find a postal address, a telephone number or an email address, you should be suspicious. Search on the internet about other people’s experiences with the same company. However, even if there are no negative reports, it does not always mean that everything is above board; on the other hand, a negative report does not always reveal a lack of seriousness.

Read the General Terms and Conditions carefully:

The effective costs of the offer and additional information about the offer should be displayed in this section.

Compare the different suppliers:

Many services can be found free of charge on the internet, without providing any personal data.

What to do if you get trapped?

If you discover a bill in your mailbox or receive an order to pay, the most important thing is to keep calm. Generally speaking, all the provider intends is to intimidate consumers into paying out of fear that the costs will increase or that there will be legal proceedings. Contact us directly for further legal advice.

When minors are victims of subscription traps

In general, minors cannot conclude contracts with professionals if the parents haven’t given their consent for a long-term subscription. Even if the teenager pretended to be of full age, their real age is taken into account and thus the contract is legally void.

You have activated a subscription online, but it was not clear for you that it incurred fees.

Many court decisions declare that the costs for a service have to be clearly indicated. Otherwise, the pretended contract is legally void. Therefore the claim for money is unfounded.

Right of withdrawal       

Even if a subscription has been signed, this does not necessarily mean that the consumer is immediately bound by the contract. Indeed, thanks to the European law, consumers have the possibility to withdraw from the contract within 14 days. The two-week  period only begins once the consumer receives clear and complete information concerning his right of withdrawal. The consumer must withdraw by a written letter sent to the operator (Email, letter or fax…). You may also exercise your right to withdraw orally, however, in case of litigation, oral statements are difficult to prove and often don’t hold up in court.

However, if you receive an order to pay (Mahnbescheid), you must react immediately. An order to pay is issued by a court. This order consists of a form, filled in by the opposing party; you should keep in mind the particularities of the German “order to pay”, i.e. that a law enforcement officer has only verified if the form was filled in correctly and if such a claim could exist, but not if the alleged claim is legitimate. Once you receive the order to pay, you generally have 14 days to file an objection by using the form you received with the order to pay. The trader then has the option to drop the matter or to start a legal procedure against you. If you fail to object to an order to pay, the claim is considered to be legitimate.

More information can be found on the website www.vorsicht-im-netz.de (in German).

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