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Online consumer fraud getting worse

Friday, December 06 14:35:40

Consumers are being ripped off at an ever-increasing rate when buying goods from abroad over the Internet, according to a report from the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net) today.

The report found that the most common scams reported to ECC-Net are those involving fraudulent items or tickets, counterfeit products, alleged free trials, data phishing, and the purchasing of used cars online.

It found that 70pc of participants reported fraudulent websites, many of which entice consumers by offering items such as phones at cheap prices only to demand further payment for delivery or customs charges. In other situations, consumers pay significant sums of money for tickets that are never delivered and which may not even exist. 30pc of participants reported instances of consumers being caught out by "free" trials of a product or service which then turned out to be a front for costly subscription services. The proliferation of counterfeit products (reported by 41pc of participants) is particularly worrying, as purchasing these items is considered a criminal offence in some European countries.

In addition to these established scams, newer threats are emerging to take advantage of changes in the way consumers use the internet. Mobile fraud is increasingly common - indeed, the report notes that smartphone users are 33pc more likely to fall victim to identity fraud than the general public. Phones tend to be less secure than regular computers and consumers less vigilant with their personal information when using them.

Other growing scams include gaming fraud, animal rescue tricks, and online dating fraud - the latter particularly devastating, as fraudsters often spend long periods of time building a bond with the victim only to then seek money for supposed travel or health issues.

Speaking at the launch, Caroline Curneen, Assistant Legal Advisor at ECC Ireland said, "Regrettably, consumers encounter scams online with disheartening frequency. Fraudsters are becoming ever-more inventive and sophisticated in their approaches and it is crucial that consumers remain vigilant and are aware of the latest threats. With Irish consumers spending over E4.1 billion on online shopping in 2012, it's more important than ever to be informed and vigilant about fraudulent behaviour."