Tech Insight : The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off

10th May 2023

In this insight, we look at the new online form where customers can report online rip-offs that’s been developed as part of the new government campaign “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading online practices.

The Online Rip-Off Problem

According to a recent poll of over 2,000 UK adults by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), 7 out of 10 people said they’d experienced misleading online practices, 85 per cent believe the businesses these practices are being dishonest with their customers, and 83 per cent say they’re less likely to buy from them in the future as a result.

Also, in another OnePoll survey of 3,700 UK adults in March this year, 67 per cent of respondents said cost-of-living pressures have made them more desperate to find the best deals, and 71 per cent said they believed they thought they were ‘saving money’ by purchasing deals that are on offer, some of which may not be genuine. The poll also showed that 1 in 4 (24 per cent) of UK consumers said they’d fallen victim to sneaky online sales tactics, 23 per cent didn’t realise tactics such as ‘15 mins left of sale’ (pressure selling) or ‘buy now’ can sometimes be false or misleading, and 68 per cent thought these types of misleading tactics should be banned.

The Biggest Concerns

The CMA survey also revealed that of those who had experienced misleading online practices, the biggest concern was about hidden charges (85 per cent of respondents), followed by subscription traps (83 per cent), fake reviews (80 per cent), and pressure selling (50 per cent).

New Online Form To Report Rip-Offs

To help tackle this problem, back in February, the CMA launched “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” campaign, fronted by Consumer Champions Martin Lewis, and his Money Show co-presenter Angellica Bell, to make consumers aware of these misleading online practices and provide tips on how to avoid them (see www.gov.uk/ripoff-tipoff).

As part of the latest phase of this campaign, the CMA has now launched a new digital reporting form where consumers can report the sneaky online sales tactics they’ve encountered.

‘Red Lines’ Letter For Businesses

In the interest of tackling the online rip-off problem from both angles, the CMA has also published a letter to UK businesses detailing its ‘online red lines’ on misleading price reduction and urgency claims – which are a type of pressure selling. The letter provides examples of where common online tactics may be misleading consumers or applying unfair pressure. The advice in the letter is targeted at all businesses that sell or promote products online to UK shoppers, so businesses can avoid or stop sales practices that could break the law.

Consumers Can Now Call Out Offenders

Angellica Bell said: “We know that the rising cost-of-living is putting a strain on shoppers across the UK. Some online businesses are using sneaky sales tactics to make us part with our money when household budgets are already stretched. We all feel the pressure of securing bargains, making us more susceptible to being ripped off. It’s frustrating when this happens and it’s time we call out these online retailers and report them to the CMA.”

Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

George Lusty, Senior Director for Consumer Protection at the Competition and Markets Authority, commented: “Now more than ever, every penny counts, and the CMA is concerned that some businesses are using underhand tactics designed to part shoppers from their cash.  This poll is just the tip of the iceberg as we believe the true number of victims of these rip-offs is much higher as they are often extremely difficult to spot.

That’s why businesses using urgency and price reduction claims need to consult the CMA’s new advice. It outlines what businesses need to do when designing their online shopping experiences to be sure they comply with the law.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The cost-of-living crisis is making it easier for consumers to fall victim to pressure selling, sneaky online sales tactics and a variety of online rip-offs. This two-pronged campaign from the CMA encompassing the letter for businesses identifying what tactics are unacceptable, and the form for consumers to report them may at least go some way to helping to reduce some sharp online practices that are hitting consumers at a time when they can least afford it. It may be the case for some businesses that they are not fully aware that the tactics they are using are misleading and possibly illegal and, therefore, the letter published for businesses could help them to design online shopping experiences that are compliant and fair. However, the CMA notes that the true number of victims of these rip-offs is likely to be much higher than even their research has shown, as they are often extremely difficult to spot.