How to check the reliability of an online trader?

Investigate the trader’s background – considering the fact that many problems encountered in the consulting practice of the Consumer Protection Board and the European Consumer Centre of Estonia are related to the non-delivery of goods that have been bought and paid for on the Internet as well as relating to the inability of the consumer to make contact with the trader, one should avoid entering into transactions with problematic traders. Internet forums should be visited to obtain information on the trader’s earlier behaviour; sometimes entering the trader’s name into the Internet search engines helps to obtain an overview of the experiences that other consumers may have had with that respective trader. Should it turn out that a certain Internet store is having problems with delivering goods to consumers and that it’s either difficult or even impossible to contact the trader, one should avoid making purchases from such a website. Also, in addition to the experiences of other consumers, one may find a warning regarding one or other trader by the Consumer Protection Board, the European Consumer Centre of Estonia, or some other organisation.

Ask questions from the trader – besides investigating the trader’s background, consumers should, prior to making a purchase, contact the trader by e-mail or telephone to ask specific questions regarding the properties or sales conditions applicable to the goods. In this way, one will learn whether the contacts, given on the trader’s website, work in the first place and whether the trader bothers to respond to consumer questions. Should it be obvious that the trader does not even bother to respond to the questions that are asked prior to a purchase, one may conclude that the complaints concerning any problems encountered would probably also be left unanswered, and it would be highly probable that it would not be possible to exercise the right to return the goods and get a refund.

Too good to be true – you should always remember not to believe offers that are beneficial beyond imagination. An Internet store that is too attractive may serve to conceal a fraudster, who only intends to scam people. Therefore, before buying a car on the Internet and falling for an incredibly good offer, one should take a look at official car markets and compare the prices they offer.

Read all the sales terms and conditions very carefully – you should not forget that besides rights, consumers also have obligations; for example, when choosing an Internet store, a consumer must judge, when reading the offered information, whether all his/her rights, provided by law, have been met and the information, disclosed on the trader, is sufficient to make a purchase. In Estonia, for example, registered traders may not ask for an advanced payment that exceeds 50% of the value of the goods; also, a consumer must be notified of his/her right of waiver, in writing.

Check the other party to the transaction – it is very important that a consumer knows the other party to any Internet transaction. It is important for the transaction to be concluded between a consumer and a legal entity as consumer protection provisions are not applicable to transactions between two natural persons (for example, purchases from Internet auctions). Therefore, before making a purchase one should be convinced that the other party to the transaction is a trader, not an individual, as otherwise a consumer must apply to the court for assistance.

Be careful with communicating your personal information
– besides a failed transaction one may also endanger his/her own safety on Internet. Careful and well-considered handling of personal information helps to avoid being cheated. Please carefully observe what the reasons for asking your personal information are on the Internet. The purpose for asking your name, address, personal ID code and bank account information or identifying your person for any other reason may be malicious and end in a theft of identity (your personal information will be used by con artists to enter into transactions in your name in future). Asking your credit card number is only justified when you want to make a payment for the goods or service.

Watch out for the safety of the payment – when paying for the purchase and entering your credit card information, an image of a padlock must be indicated at the bottom of a page and “s” - https://…, indicating that a safe encrypted channel of communication is used – must be added to the address. Never send your credit card information by e-mail to ‘confirm’ the payment.

Share your experiences – you should notify all the other consumers about the possible ‘traps’ or of negligent traders. An active approach, adopted by traders and sharing of their own experiences will contribute to market regulations and safer Internet trade.