Consumer White Paper: Trading on the Internet

White Paper: Dodgy contractors, short drinks and sharp practices in motor trade are focus of consumer crackdown
THERE WILL be an "electronic hallmark" which cannot be used by unauthorised traders, ensuring a ban on marketing methods "that take advantage of children or other vulnerable consumers". There will also be a requirement for "clear, accurate and not misleading information" about goods, services, prices (including taxes), delivery, returns policy and ordering. A terrestrial address and phone number must be shown. By the end of the year a body called "TrustUK" will be accrediting electronic commerce codes of practice that fit the above.

Will it work? This sounds promising, but it is hard to stop cyber rip- offs. Anyone can copy images, including "e-hallmarks", from a legitimate site, and if the DTI does catch up with them, that might be too late for those who gave credit card details.

Many FTSE-100 companies would fail on this code of practice, including having a phone number. A more useful idea would be to educate the public about what to expect from a well-run site (such as a "secure" electronic server for transactions, which costs more than crooks can generally afford) and spotting fly-by-night outfits by their web address, which will be "hanging off" a small-time or even free web space provider, rather than having their own paid-for "web domain".

A knowledgeable public is a far better foil for fraudsters than easily faked "e-hallmarks".