Trading standards’ direct debit warning

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Have you or anyone you know ever been locked into a subscription for an offering you didn’t sign up for? You are not alone.

An estimated two million people across the UK experience issues cancelling recurring payments for subscriptions without their apparent authorisation.

This is the startling picture highlighted during National Consumer Week (27 November - 3 December) by St Helens Council’s Trading Standards team.

National Consumer Week is an annual consumer education campaign coordinated by Citizens Advice and other members of the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), with this year’s campaign focusing on subscription issues and subscription traps.

Subscription issues can include signing up for a fixed term deal, trial, or promotion where it is unclear that the consumer will be auto-enrolled into ongoing payments.

Consumers often sign up for subscriptions unwittingly and can face problems cancelling future payments. In comparison, subscription traps are deliberately misleading practices, where the company involved uses deceptive language and misleading terms and conditions.

Darrell Wilson, Chief Trading Standards Officer for St Helens Council, said: “We receive many calls from distressed residents who have responded to an advert for a free trial of a product – often a pop-up advert on social media – for slimming pills, health foods, miracle skin creams and the like, only to find that around a £100 per month is then debited from their bank account.

“The unscrupulous traders obtain bank account details by requesting a minimal payment to cover post and packaging, and then use this to take money from the unsuspecting, who have not seen the terms and conditions of the offer.

“Before responding to these offers, you should always read the small print carefully – however long it takes – and if you can’t find the terms and conditions don’t sign up for the offer. Make sure the ‘I agree to the terms and conditions’ box has not been pre-ticked.

“If you do decide to buy – keep a copy of any advertisement (print it or take a screen shot) and make a note of the web page.

“Remember, many of these businesses may have a UK address, but this is often a fulfilment company who send out the products and the actual sellers have no UK base, making obtaining a refund very difficult.”

St Helens Trading Standards is supporting the national awareness week with pop-up information and advice sessions in local community hubs.

For more information on National Consumer Week, visit Follow National Consumer Week updates on Twitter using #BeforeYouSign and #NCW17.