Hundreds of people are feared to have lost money after the parent company of a firm selling cheap wine went into administration.
Surpluswines.co.uk placed adverts in both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph on 6 March promising “huge savings on fine wines and champagnes".
It claimed to be selling surplus stock for a European supplier whose trade had suffered due to restaurants and pubs closing down as a result of the recession.
But the firm, owned by a restaurant called Mardenis, went into administration before orders were fulfilled, leaving several hundred customers hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
How to tell if a bargain is genuine
Websites offering goods at heavily discounted prices are commonplace so how can consumers tell if an offer is a genuine bargain or one best avoided?
Although the reason for surpluswines.co.uk selling wine at knock-down prices sounded plausible, consumers should be wary of goods being sold dirt cheap. Before you buy anything, do a quick internet search to make sure other people haven’t had problems with the company concerned.
If you search for items such as Ugg boots, ghd hair straightners and Abercromie & Fitch on google you’ll come across several sites, which offer huge discounts but turn out to be selling fake goods.
Some of these are “sponsored links” on google so don’t rely on search engines weeding out fraudulent sites for you. Many of these sites offer huge discounts on recommended retail prices so treat such offers with a healthy amount of skepticism.
Last year saw the Metropolitan Police’s Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) shut down more than 1,200 scam websites. The unit targeted sites which purported to sell designer goods but either supplied customers with fake goods or nothing at all. Victims also ran the risk of their identity or bank details being stolen.
Detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie, head of the PCeU, says: "The risk begins when your desire to purchase blinds your judgment or leads you to illegal websites. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."
Make sure it's a reputable retailer
If you’re shopping online it’s important to know who you’re dealing with. Check the manufacturers’ websites to ensure you’re buying from an approved and reputable retailer. Be wary if a company just offers a PO box number rather than a proper address. There should also be a customer service phone number on the site so give it a call to check it’s manned by a real person rather than an answering machine.
Look for a padlock symbol at the top or bottom of your browser window. This means the website offers secure payments. You can double click on it to reveal details about the business that registered the site.
You can also do some basic checks to find out where a website is registered and who to. Websites such as whois.com and nominet.org.uk can tell you who owns a domain name and how long they’ve had it for.
What to do if the goods are fake
If you order goods and they turn up but are not the genuine article, ask for your money back and report the site to Trading Standards as selling counterfeit goods.
Whether the goods are counterfeit or not, if the site is based in the EU you’re covered by EU distance selling regulations and for most goods are entitled to a seven-day cooling off period. During this time you can return the goods and ask for a refund without explaining why.
If possible use a credit card for purchases over £100. This offers you extra protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If the goods fail to turn up or are not as described or the company goes bust before fulfilling your order, your credit card firm is jointly liable.
If you pay money to a firm which goes out of business before your goods are delivered check the company's website and also the website of the administrators to get the latest news on the company's situation. You can ask to be added to the list of creditors.
If the business that has gone into liquidation was a subsidiary of a larger company, it may be possible to claim directly from the parent company.