The OFT's internet consumer protection team, established in October 2009, investigates unfair online trading practices that pose a threat to consumer confidence in online markets. This work is an important part of the OFT's goal to protect consumers and promote competition and economic growth.
There are a wide variety of online threats to consumers and it's obviously not possible for us to investigate them all. Consistent with our approach to consumer enforcement generally, we aim to ensure that our online interventions deliver high impact results, for example by changing behaviour across a market, clarifying laws or providing the necessary level of deterrence to those who flout their legal obligations. This means that we do not take every case, but we try to target our resources where we can have most impact, bearing in mind the overall limit on our resources.
Although the OFT does have the capability to take criminal cases, the majority of the OFT's online enforcement deals with civil breaches of consumer protection legislation such as:
Given the global nature of the internet, international co-operation is an important element of our online enforcement activity and we regularly liaise with overseas agencies during our work. For example, we work with agencies in other European Union Member States as part of the Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) network and also international agencies via the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN). We also co-ordinate with other UK agencies as necessary.
Particular outcomes from our investigations will differ according to the case at hand. Where we consider that there is a case to answer, potential outcomes could include the agreement of undertakings with a trader to ensure that the identified infringements are not continued or repeated and also court action.
If you have a specific query about online transactions that you are concerned about, you may wish to contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 040506 or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk.
Chargeback letter - October 2010: .OFT writes to UK consumers advising them of their chargeback rights in relation to goods purchased online from a US company.
The OFT's enforcement role is changing!
From 2 April 2013, under changes to the consumer protection regime introduced by Government, there will be a greater role for the local authority Trading Standards Services in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT will retain all of its current consumer enforcement powers but will tend to use them where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This means cases will more often be taken against a number of firms in a market, rather than cases against individual firms, unless changing the behaviour of one firm would set a precedent or have other market-wide implications.
The OFT will also retain its leadership role for the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services will have equal enforcement powers.
In the first instance consumers are encouraged to contact Citizens Advice regarding any problems they may have in buying goods or services.
Back to: Consumer enforcement