County Durham’s bargain seekers have been warned to be on the lookout for substandard goods this Cyber Monday.

With record numbers of online purchases expected today (26th November), Durham County Council’s trading standards officers are giving consumers tips on how not to get ripped off.

This effort is part of National Consumer Week, which runs from Monday 26th November to Monday 3rd December and aims to raise awareness of shoppers’ rights, especially online.

The launch of National Consumer Week begins on Cyber Monday and closely follows Black Friday, which are two of the busiest shopping days of the year.

The council’s Trading Standards Team always receives a deluge of complaints in the run-up to Christmas, especially about faulty, counterfeit or poorly described items purchased over the internet.

Many of these goods are sold by traders operating out of private addresses and advertised on platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and eBay. When consumers report poor-quality items, officers can investigate the sellers and obtain search warrants to seize stock and prosecute offenders.

When making online purchases, shoppers are advised to check the seller has a UK contact address rather than just a domain name. Customers should also check that the seller has a returns policy and should look at reviews and any other feedback available on the merchant.

It is standard practice for reputable traders to offer their customers a 14-day cooling-off period, during which any purchases can be returned.

Customers should also have a 30-day window in which they can return faulty or poorly described items and ask for a full refund, which should include postage and packing.

In some cases, the customer’s right to a refund can extend for as long as six months after making the purchase.

All this should be spelled out in the seller’s terms and conditions. These procedures also apply to items bought on platforms like Amazon and eBay.

Durham County Council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, Joanne Waller, said, “Our trading standards officers work tirelessly throughout the year to safeguard consumers and investigate when things go wrong.”

“At this time of year, when so many deals are being advertised, consumers need to be extra vigilant, especially when shopping online.”

“We all love a bargain, but if a deal sounds too good to be true, it may well be, so approach it with caution. Make sure you check the trader’s refund policy and terms and conditions and, when shopping on eBay or Amazon, look at the seller’s feedback and reviews.”

“By taking these steps, you are reducing the risk of being caught out, but if something does go wrong, make sure you report it.”

Consumers who have bought faulty or mis-described items online or who have ordered goods that have not been delivered, should call the Consumer Advice Helpline on 03454 040 506.

You can also report counterfeit goods by going to tradingstandards@durham.gov.uk. For more general consumer advice, please visit www.durham.gov.uk/tradingstandards.

(The featured image shows examples of counterfeit products seized by Trading Standards.)

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