Smart Consumer: Beware of 'special' offers, and make sure to use your credit card to pay
You spot a special deal for a course of salon treatments or a half-price sofa that you really like and the shop has promised to deliver within eight weeks. You've got a good price, so you're happy.
But your happiness could turn to tears if the business closes down and you're left with an empty wallet and nothing to show for it.
RTE weather girl Nuala Carey is certainly wary about seemingly special offers now. She learned what could go wrong the hard way.
She had signed up to a "wonderful promotion" at a salon in Dublin's IFSC. She paid in cash for 14 'wash and blow-drys' for €150, which she felt was a great bargain.
"Working in television I can't really afford to have a bad hair day," she says, "it was a lovely treat to head into the salon after work in the evening and not have to worry about my hair the following morning."
Except that with fewer than half her treatments used, the business closed down.
"I was flicking through the Irish Independent a number of weeks ago," says Nuala, "when I read the notice about the business being wound down. I was very surprised because I had only been in the salon a few days before.
"I tried to call them, but the phone rang out. It had closed without notice and with immediate effect."
Nuala was really disappointed and says she "felt cheated". She also felt gutted for the staff. "They were always lovely to me and did an excellent job, so I am very sorry that they have lost their jobs."
She now feels "nervous about special offers and also any vouchers I have got as presents recently. I have used them up almost immediately, as in this climate of economic crisis it is a fact of life that many businesses are closing and at very short notice too".
Sadly, it's a case of losers all round. Nuala can register as a creditor with the liquidator of the company but, in reality, consumers will figure at the bottom of any creditor's list.
Because Nuala paid in cash she cannot initiate a chargeback as she could on a credit-card purchase. This is the big lesson everyone should note: paying with your credit card is safest.
Whether your credit card is Visa or Mastercard, it will come with a chargeback facility.
This means that if a business closes down and has your money but you never got the goods or services, you can contact your credit-issuing bank and they should be able to charge the money paid back to your credit card.
Interestingly, both Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland say they have seen no noticeable increases in terms of chargeback requests.
AIB does report an increase however, and Ulster Bank does say it has seen a decrease in spending on credit cards.
However, if you are spending and want to protect your purchases against a possible business closure, use your credit card and if the worst happens, here's is what you should do.
Begin by trying to resolve the dispute with the merchant or liquidator or receiver first.
AIB says: "It is important to ensure that a record of all correspondence and phone calls with the merchant is kept as a record to support the customer's case should they need to contact their bank."
If this doesn't work, "every effort will be made to retrieve the customer's funds within the Visa/Mastercard International disputes rules".
For Bank of Ireland customers the advice is to contact the bank as soon as you know you are not going to receive the goods or services when you've paid with your credit card.
BoI "would advise customers buying online or otherwise to always keep a copy of their receipt or online confirmation.
"We also sometimes request customers to obtain a copy of the liquidation notice when companies go bust and do not deliver."
With Ulster Bank, the advice again is to contact the bank immediately and there is no need to register as a creditor with the liquidator, for example.
Ulster Bank is also the only bank currently offering a Visa debit card, which is like your laser card except that you can also use it in shops abroad.
In addition, that Visa debit card comes with a chargeback facility, so if you've made a purchase using one and haven't received the product or service you're in luck.
For purchases made on your laser card I'm afraid there is no similar facility.