Scam Watch: The free trial scam
Today, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that three-quarters (74%) of Brits have bought goods or services online so far in 2014 - a jump from 53% in 2008.
But there are unscrupulous individuals and businesses online who want to take advantage and rip you off.
At Moneywise, we regularly hear from readers who have been duped by websites offering all manner of deals, which - in most cases - are too good to be true, leaving them out of pocket and nervous about shopping online.
To get you up to speed with what to look out for when using the web, we spoke to one of the UK's leading experts on online security about some of the scams currently targeting web users and what you can do to stay safe.
Mike Andrews is the national co-ordinator of the National Trading Standards eCrime team. Since its formation two years ago, the group has led the fight against online crooks who prey on people's naivety online, pursuing criminals and bringing them to court.
So what sort of scams are people falling for and how does the eCrime unit help? Here we look at the free trial scam.
Have you been scammed? Let the Moneywise Scam Watch team know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The free-trial scam
Want to lose weight quickly? Then you might be tempted to sign up for one of the many 'free' trials of diet pills. If you do, however, then the only place you are likely to feel lighter is in your pocket.
Moneywise has a constant stream of complaints from customers about companies offering miracle cures and health supplements, only to see the firm has raided their bank account a couple of weeks later.
Normally the advert, often in the form of a pop-up, will suggest the customer only needs to pay for the postage and packaging for delivery but the company takes their bank details and signs them up for a monthly supply.
In many cases, the pop-up makes no reference to the terms and conditions the customer is signing up for and the details of the payment plan are buried in the terms and conditions – and when you try to complain, it can be difficult to contact the company.
"These sorts of subscription scams are becoming an increasing problem," Andrews says. "They are presented in such a way that you think you are getting a free trial but you'll soon find you are a couple of hundred pounds down."
How can you avoid the con? It's simple, don't sign up to one if it requires you to share bank details.
If you want to report an online scam or find out more, visit tradingstandardsecrime.org.uk.
What can you do to stay safe?
- Act online as you would do if you were shopping on the high street. If someone came up to you in the street offering you some diet pills for free, you would just walk on by so why cough up online?
- Make sure you use official websites and don't automatically click on the first search result you see. Often the official sites appear third or fourth in the list.
- Don't pass on your bank details unless you are absolutely sure the company is legitimate - and even then it's usually better to pay by credit card. Purchases of more than £100 are automatically covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, so should anything go wrong, your card provider can refund you. For smaller transactions, PayPal can provide similar peace of mind.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.