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With warm weather on the horizon, New Year’s resolutions may be a distant memory for some, but many people are now starting their “bikini body ready” diets for their Easter or Summer breaks in the sun.
Whilst some rely on the good old-fashioned diet and exercise method, it would appear that many are resorting to a “quick fix” in the form of diet pills.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said that the number of complaints about diet pills from 2012 to 2014 has risen by 710% in the two years.
There are a number of complaints being made about the pills including: goods that don’t exist being advertised; goods not being delivered on time (or at all); goods being provided that are not as described (i.e. pills that are not slimming pills, and are in fact vitamins or other pills). However CAB has stated that the majority of complaints relate to payments being taken from bank accounts without the card holder’s permission.
Instead of losing pounds of fat, the would be dieters are losing pounds sterling, losing an average of £150 a time, after signing up to a “free” or small fee trial of pills, and providing bank details in order to pay a nominal fee for postage and packaging.
There are many different forms of the scam, but in a lot of the scams customers believe that they are signing up to a “free trial”, and input their delivery details and their bank details (to cover the postage and packaging) in to an online form which they have received by virtue of an email or a Facebook advert. As the customer has provided their card details to cover the postage and packaging they are exposed to further payments being taken from their account.
In cases such as these, where there are no terms and conditions and the customer has been misled by the company, they have purchased the products on the back of a misrepresentation. They are entitled to their money back and should contact the company. If necessary they should contact their bank to ask the bank to put a stop to the unauthorised payments.
However in other instances the customer is emailed a confirmation after making the purchase, which includes some terms and conditions. One widely reported scam’s terms and conditions state: “If you do not cancel your account during the 15-days trial period, you will be charged for the already received product separately and thus the free trial converts into a regular monthly subscription. If the account is not cancelled, after one month following the date you order your product, another 30-day supply of the product is sent to you and the full price of the product will be charged to your credit or debit card”.
The terms and conditions contained in the email do not apply as they were provided after the pills had been requested and therefore cannot form part of a contract. The law states that it would be unfair for a person to be bound by a contract or an offer of which he or she had no knowledge.
However in other cases, the customers have ticked a box before completing the form stating that they have read the terms and conditions, and unwittingly signed up to become regular subscribers at a vast cost.
Firstly, we’d suggest you work out whether you have inadvertently accepted terms and conditions and you should’ve read the small print, or whether you have been the victim of a scam.
Either way, the law can protect you.
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 will offer you protection if the goods that arrive are not as described, or if they don’t arrive at all.
If you think you’ve bought something because of a false statement (made either by a company or a private seller) then you may have the right to end the contract and get a refund under the Misrepresentation Act 1967.
If the terms of the agreement are unfair (for example, if it’s very difficult to cancel the contract or the terms are very difficult to understand), then you may have rights under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and could cancel the contract that way.
If you bought the goods on your credit card, s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 holds the credit card company jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company, meaning you can claim against the credit card company for the breach (however the goods must be over £100 and less than £30,000 for this section of the Act to apply).
If you are reading this and you realise you’ve entered in to a contract over the internet, but you’ve just changed your mind, you still have rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (which recently increased the protection from the so-called “Distance Selling Regulations”). When you buy goods or services by distance sale (i.e. when you purchase goods or services without face to face contact, so on the internet, on the phone or via mail order), the law states that you can cancel your contract and receive your money back within what is known as a “cooling off” period (which is usually 14 days from when you receive the goods, or up to an extra year if you do not receive the contract information that you are entitled to by law). If goods have been supplied then those goods should be returned to the traders.
This sounds more complicated than it is, and a consumer would not necessarily need to consult a lawyer to do this; one can only hope that being enabling consumers are armed with their rights under legislation will help ensure that they lose lbs and not £s!
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