Sunday 30 April 2017

I was misled about a so-called discount in the Black Friday sales: are shops allowed do this?

It is very important to know that your consumer rights are the same in a sale as they are at any other time of the year, so if you buy an item in a shop and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund, depending on what the fault is. (Stock picture)
It is very important to know that your consumer rights are the same in a sale as they are at any other time of the year, so if you buy an item in a shop and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund, depending on what the fault is. (Stock picture)

Fergal O'Leary

I bought what I thought was a heavily discounted TV in the recent Black Friday sales. The store had advertised the TV as a Black Friday offer - and said the TV was selling for half its normal price. However, I was in the store again recently - long after the Black Friday sales had finished up - and I noticed the TV was on sale for the same price I had paid for it under the so-called Black Friday offer. It looks like the store deliberately misled me. Are they allowed to do this? The main reason I bought the TV was because I thought I was getting it for half price.

Ciara, Stepaside, Co Dublin

Under the Consumer Protection Act 2007, it is against the law for businesses to give false or misleading information about a product or service.

If, for example, a retailer crosses out one price and replaces it with another lower price, the goods in question must have been on sale in the same place at that previous price for a reasonable time. How long "a reasonable time" should be is not spelled out in law. However it is the view of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC) that the product should only be advertised as a discounted price for the same amount of time as it was available at the previous higher price.

For example, let's say a product has been for sale at €100 for four weeks. If this is cut to €75, it should only be advertised as the reduced price of €75 for a maximum of four weeks. If a chain or a business with more than one outlet advertises goods at a certain price, that price should apply in all its outlets where the goods are sold - unless the advertisement makes it clear that the price applies in certain outlets only.

It is very important to know that your consumer rights are the same in a sale as they are at any other time of the year, so if you buy an item in a shop and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund, depending on what the fault is. However, if you buy something in a store and you simply change your mind, you are not automatically entitled to return it for a refund or exchange. Some shops will give you a refund with proof of purchase or allow you to exchange the item but this is shop policy and not consumer law.

If you believe that you have been deliberately misled about a price promotion, you can contact the CCPC's helpline on 1890 432 432.

I treated myself to a high-end coffee machine just before Christmas. However when I went to make my first coffee, I discovered that there was serious fault with it - it was not heating the water, so my coffees are all stone cold. When I returned it to the shop, the sales assistant refused to give me a full refund, as the same machine is now on sale. Clearly I am not happy with this situation. Am I entitled to a full refund?

Derek, Templeogue, Dublin 6W

You did the right thing by returning the coffee machine to the shop you bought it from, as it is its responsibility to resolve the issue for you. The shop's obligations do not change if there is a sale on and it should not use this as an excuse. If something you bought turns out to be faulty, and the item is then on sale when you try to resolve the issue, your consumer rights are the same as at any other time of the year. You are still entitled to a refund of the full price or a replacement of the same value. You do not have to accept a refund of the lower sale price if the goods are faulty. You will however need proof of purchase, such as a receipt or credit or debit card statement to prove you paid the full price.

In your situation, it might be worth returning to the shop and asking to speak to the manager. Bring the coffee machine along with you and offer to demonstrate the fault to the manager. Once you have done this, explain that under consumer law, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund.

If you are unhappy with the retailer's response you should make a formal complaint to it in writing.

In an effort to budget better, I have started using my debit card anytime I buy something (and where I can). However, when I received my monthly bank statement, I noticed a few transactions that I am sure I did not make. They are all related to purchases made online. Is my card being used fraudulently by someone else?

Paul, Newbridge, Co Kildare

It can be a shock to find a strange and unrecognised transaction on your bank statement. First, check if another member of your family is using your card details to buy things online. Then, look carefully at the information provided on your bank statement. The merchant name on the bank statement may not be the same as the trading name of the company - especially with a chain of different shops under various trading names. It's a good idea to enter the name appearing on the bank statement into a search engine. If it's linked to a legitimate trader, it will show up quickly.

Another way suspicious transactions can be caught is by the bank. Banks monitor and check debit card transactions -for either those that break the card holder's spending pattern or those typical of fraud (for example, where an individual quickly buys a large number of expensive goods).

In these cases, the card holder is usually contacted and asked if these transactions are genuine. In this way, the bank can begin tracking the fraudster quickly and prevent more fraudulent transactions from taking place.

Should you have been defrauded, try to identify how the fraud occurred.

For example, did you recently respond to an email or pop-up box online asking you to provide your personal or banking information?

If so, you may have unsuspectingly passed your details on to a scammer who is now using your details to buy items online. Should this be the case, you should contact your bank or card issuer straight away and let them know about the suspected fraud.

There are some simple steps you can take to protect your personal and bank details. Never respond to unsolicited emails asking you to confirm or provide purchase or account information. Legitimate businesses will not look for this type of information through email.

Pop-up windows can sometimes be used to fraudulently obtain personal information. Never input personal details into unusual pop-up windows that appear on websites.

One of the best ways to detect fraudulent activity quickly is by examining your account activity regularly. Check for suspicious money transfers, payments or unauthorised access. If you do find anything suspicious, you should report it to your bank or card issuer straight away.

Email your questions to lmcbride@independent.ie or write to 'Your Questions, The Sunday Independent Business Section, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1'.

While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert to answer your query, this column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

Fergal O'Leary is a Member of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

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