Children as young 13 are able to buy alcohol and knives over the internet, a new survey has found.
Trading standards officers (TSOs) found that some of the UK’s ‘best-known’ internet stores failed to make checks to stop age-restricted products from getting into the hands of young people. The stores have not been named for legal reasons.
The TSOs, who made test purchases, also found that counterfeit goods are commonplace online, and many businesses are failing to give buyers clear information about themselves or details on what to do if something goes wrong.
The Trading Standards Institute (TSI), which published the research today to mark the start of National Consumer Week, has called for urgent action to protect online shoppers. It wants the Home Office to ban the sale of knives online.
TSI Chief Executive Ron Gainsford said: ‘There remains an urgent need for the government, trade organisations and those who deliver items sold on the web to launch a full review to establish how better to control the sale of age-restricted goods over the internet.
‘Traders must find a way to stop youngsters buying these products and at the same time protect themselves from the risk of prosecution. They must consider ways of preventing sales of age-restricted goods to those who are too young to buy them.’
Lisa Barber, Senior Researcher on Computing Which?, said:’UK online shops need to pull their finger out and ensure that children are prevented from buying such products online and that all online traders comply with consumer law. Our advice is to stick to reputable websites and make sure you know your rights.’
Knives and alcohol
Twenty-five trading standards services across the UK took part in internet survey. Using a 13-year-old’s Solo debit card, which is aimed at people aged under 18 and available to those as young as age 11, Milton Keynes trading standards department bought two kitchen knife sets, alcohol, spray paint and a ripper saw.
Westminster trading standards department bought 27 knives and one carving fork online. Of five stores tested, only two gave any information about age restrictions or attempted to determine the age of the customer. North Yorkshire TSOs found 11,298 counterfeit videos offered for sale by 269 individuals in towns and cities across the UK.
Norfolk trading standards department checked 90 sites – and none complied fully with relevant consumer protection law; 98 per cent failed to declare their proper name and a similar number didn’t give their proper address. And 86 per cent failed to give customers information about their cancellation rights – a legal requirement.
Consumer Direct, the government’s consumer advice line, received 15,567 complaints about internet selling between July 2004 and mid-September this year. High on the list of complaints were computers, TVs and mobile telephones with defective goods and failure or delay in delivery being the most common problems.
The TSI has published a buyers’ checklist to help consumers shop safely on the net. It says:
- use websites that you know or which are recommended. Look for firms that are part of an independent approval scheme, such as the TrustUK or Isis logo. Make sure the seller’s name and address is included on the site (by law, this information should be given)
- be extra careful if the website is based outside the UK. Don’t assume that an internet company is based in the UK just because its website has a ‘uk’ in it – check out the physical address and phone number
- a company must refund you if something goes wrong. If your credit card or debit card is used fraudulently, the credit card company must refund you. Look for websites that have a secure way of paying – these show a padlock at the bottom of the screen when you are filling in the payment details. And never send your Pin by email or over the internet
- all your high street consumer rights apply
- you have a seven-day cooling-off period if you change your mind
- you have few rights buying from a private seller.