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Beware of boxes: Advice on avoiding deceptive marketing

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DIANNE NICE

By now, most of us know not to respond to e-mails from generous Nigerians with money to transfer.

However, not as many of us know how to avoid devious marketing while shopping online or by phone. According to Visa Canada, 20 per cent of credit card holders have been a victim of unauthorized charges as a result of an offer they accepted online or over the phone.

Deceptive marketers ensnare unsuspecting consumers in a number of subtle ways, such as by pre-checking online consent boxes, burying the details of the offers in the terms and conditions and making cancellations or returns difficult. Once victimized, consumers can be caught in a cycle of recurring charges for products and services they do not want.

Gord Jamieson, head of payment system risk at Visa Canada, says common frauds include tricking customers into purchasing products as they are signing up for a free sample, or dinging them with service fees while offering a "free" vacation.

If the samples and prizes really are free, he says, you should not be asked for your credit card number. "Without unticking that pre-checked box, you're basically authorizing it, and by providing your card number and account information, that's a good indication as well that you're going to be potentially authorizing further transactions on your account."

"If you're a consumer, you have to suspect that someone may try to pull a fast one on you," said RCMP Staff Sergeant Paul Proulx, manager of the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre. "You have to be vigilant and almost assume it's a scam to begin with and try to look into as much as possible."

If you have been a victim of fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501 or e-mailing info@antifraudcentre.ca.

To avoid falling prey to deceptive marketing practices, you should always:

Know the terms of sale

Only 22 per cent of online shoppers read the merchant's entire terms and conditions of sale before making a purchase. This is how most frauds occur. Inquire about the company's refund and complaint process before you buy.

Beware of pre-checked boxes

Pay particular attention to any pre-checked tick boxes before you submit your payment card information for an order. Failing to uncheck the boxes may bind you to terms and conditions you're not interested in.

Read your statements

Review card statements when you get them for any unauthorized charges, and notify the card issuer promptly of any unusual activity or unauthorized charges.

Protect your information

Be cautious when responding to special offers. If you're asked to provide credit card information when accepting something touted as free, be suspicious.

Do some research

Before accepting any deal, make sure you are dealing with a reputable retailer. An online search can help you determine whether the company is real or whether it may be involved in a scam. Call the company to confirm that the caller and the offer are legitimate. You can find a list of common scams at phonebusters.com.

Make sure the transaction is secure

Website URLs that begin with are secure. If the URL begins with https@:// or has other characters inserted, beware.

Contact the retailer

Try to resolve the situation with the merchant. If you're unsuccessful, contact your credit card issuer immediately to dispute the charge.