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Internet Web Site :

E  F  F  I  C   I  E  N  T
E  F  F  E  C   T  I  V  E
E  C  O  N  O   M  I  C
"Serving over 5 million people"

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This leaflet has been prepared for the guidance of traders by the Northern Counties Chief Trading Standards Officers Group. It is not an authoritative document on the law and is only intended for guidance. 

A world wide sweep of internet websites by consumer protection officers shows the majority of traders are falling short of international consumer protection guidelines.

Officers from Durham County Council joined international colleagues from 19 countries, including Australia, Japan and Mexico, in the sweep.

They were particularly looking at the standard of protection for consumers buying online.

More than 3,200 websites selling anything from books, music and travel to toys, software, clothes and electronic goods were assessed for information available prior to buying.

Most of the 637 UK sites examined provided basic business contact details such as an address, e-mail address and telephone number, as well as an itemised bill.

"However, many sites fell short in providing easily accessible information on both their refund or exchange policies and how they would handle customersí personal details," said Phillip Holman, the County Councilís Head of Consumer Services.

"Only 48 per cent provided any easily accessible information regarding refunds or exchange policies and only 39 per cent had a privacy policy.

"Consumers shopping online should enjoy at least the same level of transparency of transaction and effective protection they would expect when making an ordinary purchase in the High Street.

"It is worrying that despite new regulations which came into force last October, many websites still donít have a clear refund policy.

"Failure to tell consumers about their right to cancel and to a full refund is a fundamental breach of the new Distance Selling Regulations.

"We obviously still have some way to go before all websites meet the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) consumer protection guidelines for electronic commerce.

"The lowest compliance worldwide was with restrictions on purchases Ė parental approval, minimum age requirement and geographic limitations.

"For our part, we are looking to monitor websites set up in the County and advise them on the legislation and best practice," he said.

County Council cabinet member Don Ross said: "As more and more people start to shop online, they should know their rights and have access to all the information they need to make a secure and informed purchasing decision."

The County Councilís Consumer Services recently published a leaflet called Safer Shopping Online for anyone concerned about shopping on the web. Copies of the leaflet and information on the new Distance Selling Regulations are available by calling 0191 383 3589.


Notes to News Editors: For further information contact Peter Fleming, divisional manager, on 0191 383 3584 or Chris Cooper, senior trading standards officer on 0191 383 4468.

North Yorkshire County Council

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