Is it a scam or a rip-off?

It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a scam and a dubious offer. If you've been misled by an offer, you have rights which providers can’t breach.

Scam or rip-off?

For something to be considered an offence under the Fraud Act, the perpetrator must intend to steal from their victim or have intent to perpetrate a fraud. 

For example, if you pay for a service that doesn't exist because the provider is running a fake company, this is a scam and is definitely considered to be fraudulent activity.

Find out how to spot a scam.

Deliberately misleading

However, if the provider is not intending to steal but is deliberately misleading you or is grossly negligent, they could be in breach of contract. 

Although this isn't considered to be a scam (or fraudulent activity) it's still considered to be questionable practice. 

The Consumer Rights Act (which replaced the Sale of Goods Act on 1 October 2015) stipulates that goods sold must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. 

Fit for purpose means that products must be fit for both their everyday purpose and also any specific purpose you agreed with the seller. 

If these criteria are not met, then the seller could be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act. 

False information or omissions 

Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, a company must not deliberately mislead you by providing false information or by omitting key information. 

If a company does this, you can make a complaint of mis-selling. 

As of 1 October 2014, if a company or trader deliberately misleads or pressures you into signing a contract you can seek financial redress. 

This includes the right to undo a contract and receive a refund, the right to a discount and an entitlement to seek damages. 

In order for these new rights to apply, you must be able to show that a misleading action or aggressive practice was a significant factor in you entering into the contract. 

It's important to note that misleading omissions are not covered by these new rights.

Genuine prices

If a company is advertising a sale, then it has to follow government guidelines in order to ensure the sale is genuine. 

There are three key things to look out for:

  • Before reducing prices in a sale, items must have been sold at the higher price for 28 consecutive days immediately before the sale, unless a sign explains the terms of the offer
  • Items shouldn't be on offer at the sale price for longer than being sold at the higher price unless the shop displays a sign explaining how the sale differs from these rules
  • The original price must be clearly displayed along with the sale price. A sign shouldn't just say 'sale £15' – it must say something like 'was £50, sale price £15'.

Unfair terms

In general, companies are free to use whatever contractual terms and conditions they consider to be reasonable. 

But, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations say these terms and conditions cannot be unfair.

Only a court can decide whether a term is unfair. 

But, you can report an unfair contract term to your local trading standards department or the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which took over from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in April 2014.

Phone or text competitions

Competitions requiring you to make a premium-rate phone call or send texts to see what you've won may be considered unfair, but it's unlikely to be fraud if it’s possible to win a prize. 

But they could breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 if the terms and conditions aren't clear. 

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations makes it an offence for traders to treat consumers unfairly through misleading actions, misleading omissions or aggressive practices. 

Find out how to report a scam.

Fake or counterfeit goods

Fake or counterfeit goods can help fund crime. If you think you've spotted a fake product but you're not sure, read our tips for spotting fakes.

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