Consumer rights: 'My night at the opera was spoilt by agency's con'

Problems with the secondary ticket market...Stung by airline's hidden fees...Credit checks after identity fraud


Q. I am the victim of an on-line ticket scam operated by a Paris-based agency. In February I paid €461.90 for two tickets for a performance of Cosi Fan Tutte at the Palais Garnier in June. Despite approaches by email, fax, telephone and post, I never received the tickets and now need to institute legal proceedings to recover the money. Where do I lodge the complaint and get the necessary forms?

HG, London

A. You appear to have fallen foul of the secondary ticket market (or ticket resale), where tickets have been bought from the authorised seller and sold on by the buyer – an individual or a company – at a price set by them.

Over the past few years there have been numerous websites selling tickets for festivals, concerts and sporting events that have already been "sold out". Even when the official website says an event is sold out, the temptation of a website still offering tickets is too great for some people, even at inflated prices. If the tickets don't arrive, the seller is usually long gone and the customer has very little protection.

You haven't told me how you paid for the non-existent tickets. If you used a credit card you can make a claim from your credit card company under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This is likely to be your best option.

If you didn't use a credit card, the next (not very hopeful) step would be court action. Jed Mayatt, the manager of the Trading Standards Institute's UK European Consumer Centre (UKECC), says: "The consumer will not have to go to a French court. He or she can use the European small claims procedure which is carried out via the local county court. Speak to your local court to find out how this process is initiated.

"The consumer's best bet is to contact us directly so we can create a case and share it with our French counterparts to try to resolve the problems. We have no enforcement powers, but more often than not there has been a lack of communication, and when we contact a trader the issue is resolved. I have to admit in these cases it can be difficult."

You can contact the UK ECC (www.ukecc.net) on 08456 04 05 03 or by email: ecc@tsi.org.uk.

Q. I've just booked flights to Aberdeen and was charged £18 for using a debit card. I thought I'd read recently that airlines had been told to stop this practice. Tickets which appeared to be £82 each have cost me £240 altogether because I wanted to book my seats, have one piece of luggage in the hold and pay by debit card. Can you tell me what the situation is on this please?

MD, Oxford

A. You may have read that consumer watchdogs in the UK are threatening to take action against airlines and other travel firms over this, but it's still work in progress. The consumer magazine Which? has found 16 airlines charging customers for using credit cards. It has complained to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which is considering whether to take action.

These surcharges are added to the payment charges only after you have filled in all the necessary details and are about to buy. These "hidden" charges are known as dipping. The airlines use them to help keep the headline prices of their tickets down.

The OFT feels that adding these charges at the last minute is potentially misleading and wants airlines and other travel firms to avoid any extra charges when paying by debit card. It seems more sympathetic to adding extra charges on credit cards sales because credit card transactions are more expensive to process.

It's warning that if airlines don't sort this out they may be forced to. We should know more in the autumn.

Q. In May this year I was the victim of ID theft which resulted in three phones being fraudulently ordered in my name. The police suggested I check my credit record in case any further fraudulent use had been made of my details.

I had noticed Experian ads for a "free" credit check so I went to their website and gave some details including my email address. The next screen asked for credit or debit card details. At that point I decided not to go ahead and closed the web page. I hadn't used any "Confirm" or "Submit" buttons. Although the screen said there would be no charge for the first 30 days I didn't feel confident about giving out these details. I thought that would be an end of it.

However, within minutes I received an email from CreditExpert saying that I was within inches of receiving my credit report and I had "opted" to receive their communications. Since then Experian has used my email address six times to try to get me to sign up for this "free" trial. Although I can unsubscribe I don't think they had the right to use it in the first place without my permission and I'm not encouraged to use the service.

BS, Newcastle

A. I put your complaint direct to James Jones, the consumer education manager at Experian, and he says: "You need to enter card details when joining CreditExpert because the free trial will continue into a monthly subscription if you don't cancel it within 30 days. The card details also help us confirm your identity. Our marketing is always permission based and you can withdraw this at any time by clicking on the opt-out link.

"Victims of identity fraud can get a free report from each of the three credit reference agencies – you simply need to raise the alarm with any of them. To report a confirmed identity fraud to Experian simply call 0844 481 8000 selecting option 5 then option 2."

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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