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Consumer organizations warn against untrustworthy online stores

Many consumers still make online purchases without checking the trustworthiness of the online store first, whereas purchases made with unfamiliar online stores in particular carry risks. That is why the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), the Dutch Consumers’ Association (in Dutch: Consumentenbond), the European Consumer Centre (ECC), the Fraud Help Desk (in Dutch: Fraudehelpdesk), and the national hotline for online scams (LMIO) of the Dutch police have joined forces in a campaign against scams and fraud by online stores. Today, these organizations have launched the campaign ‘Check reviews before you buy’.

For 2023, the national hotline for online scams (LMIO) of the Dutch police expects over 40,000 reports about buying and selling scams. Approximately 14,000 of those concern online stores that failed to deliver the purchased items. That number may be higher, since approximately 10,000 victims say they have been misled through Instagram. LMIO suspects that these victims eventually also ended up at an online store through that platform. LMIO had 1,000 fraudulent online stores taken down. That is over 30% more than in 2022. Data from the Fraud Help Desk also show that the average financial harm caused by fraud involving online purchases is on the rise: the average financial harm is 350 euros, which is more than 20% higher than in 2022.

ACM, the Dutch Consumers’ Association, and ECC, too, receive reports from consumers that complain about online stores that do not have their affairs in order. Since it is relatively easy to set up an online store, consumer organizations see more and more often owners of online stores that have little experience as business owners as well as little knowledge about the rules that protect consumers when making online purchases. Consumers complain about misleading practices by these types of online stores, as their orders are delivered much too late or even not at all, they unexpectedly have to pay high return costs, they do not receive their money back after returning the items, or they are unable to reach the business. That is why the organizations call on consumers to check first whether an online store is trustworthy.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “This year too, we are joining forces with the other consumer organizations to warn consumers against untrustworthy online stores. With the holiday season just around the corner, nobody wants a bad purchase or an order that is delivered much too late or not at all. Therefore, check the reviews before placing an order! Such a quick check will help you weed out most of the scammers or online stores that do not have their affairs in order.”

What can you do yourself?

The most important and easiest thing to do is checking reviews in advance. Enter the word ‘reviews’ and the URL of the online store in Google, and read the experiences of others on multiple review sites. Sort and filter the reviews to get a balanced picture of the online store. You can also check reports on the website of the Dutch police (in Dutch).