Internet fraud and counterfeit products

Due to the “button solution”, European consumers should no longer encounter problems with "subscription traps". Nevertheless, every year numerous internet users become victims of fraud. Furthermore, many consumers buy counterfeit goods. Please find 10 hints below explaining on what you should pay attention to avoid buying counterfeit products.

Beware of fraud

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 have not implemented the “button solution”, leading to consumers unintentionally activating a subscription online by registering on a website. In such cases, contact your local European Consumer Centre.

Some general advice about how to act on the internet:

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.

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.)

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?

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Compare the different suppliers: Many services can be found free of charge on the internet, without providing any personal data.

Important: Never subscribe to offers if you have any doubts.

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.

10 ways to spot counterfeits on the internet

Buying counterfeit goods  is risky for your security,  your health and your wallet. So don’t do it!

  1. When using search engines to look for certain products beware of phrases such as "cheap" or "free shipping" as this can be an indication that the site is fraudulent.
  2. Verify the identity of the seller's contact details by searching the legal information or terms and conditions section of their website.
  3. Look online for reviews about the seller's website.
  4. Verify any trust certificates on their website by contacting the certifier directly.
  5. Check with the brand holder to see if they have a list of approved re-sellers or a known list of counterfeit sites.
  6. Compare the prices of the seller's website with that of the official seller or high street retailer.  If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
  7. Compare the brands official logo with the one on the goods on the sellers website. Do they match?
  8. Check the terms and conditions on the sellers website to see if they mention the applicable laws that protect you as a consumer.
  9. Beware of websites that have a poor design, broken English or poor quality images.
  10. Secure your payment! Always give preference to methods of payment that offer extra protection, like a credit card.

What happens if I have already received counterfeit goods?

  • Check with your bank or card issuer for any chargeback or similar schemes available to get a reimbursement.
  • Withdraw your order within 14 days from the date of order by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt.
  • Report the website to Actionfraud for intelligence.
  • Contact the official brand holder to report the activity of the seller's website.

To view the complete guide on what to look out for when buying goods online please click the linkCounterfeit Goods guide