As we plummet toward Christmas, the temptation to jump online and grab videogame hardware from any source possible gets more overwhelming - especially if it's a desperate last-minute gift.
Last week, however, HM Revenue & Customs warned that thousands of fake Nintendo DS consoles - complete with potentially dangerous power adaptors - had been seized at UK freight depots. And for every dodgy handheld that does show up, there will be hundreds of games and consoles that just never arrive. So here are five tips on online purchases - all learned through my own encounter with a fraudulent seller earlier this year.
Use your credit card Purchases made with a credit card are protected under the Consumer Credit Act of 1974, which makes your card issuer liable if anything goes wrong. Debit cards aren't covered. Check becardsmart.org.uk and cardwatch.org.uk for advice.
Check the website is safe The best way is to shop from big sites, but that's not always possible. At least make sure the transaction is secure - look for the padlock symbol and https in the address window. Check that the site is a member of an online accreditation scheme like Internet Shopping is Safe. Signing up with Mastercard SecureCode or Verified By Visa provides extra protection.
Research the seller Ensure it has a UK address and telephone number - ring it and talk to someone. Check that they're registered at Companies House. Keep all the emails connected to the transaction - if things do go pear-shaped you'll need these to back up any court claims.
Be careful on eBay It's safer to buy from a shop or business seller rather than an individual. Also, if you're paying via PayPal, your purchase is protected via an online resolution process. Check the seller's user rating properly - click on the number and read a few. Safefromscams.co.uk/ EBayFeedbackScam.html and the Guides section are worth reading as they have information on the latest swindles.
Read the product description carefully. Is it in full working order? Does it come with a warranty? If it's used, is it still within the warranty period? Look at postage and payment options, too. If anyone offers to get the item to you faster if you pay via bank or money transfer, forget it.
Know your rights Be ready to quote from The Sale of Goods Act of 1979, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and the Distance Selling Regulations 2000. And remember the golden rule: if it seems to good to be true, it'll probably explode when you plug it in.
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