Phones, CDs and cars: How to beat 'rip-off Britain'

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The Independent Online

The Consumers' Association claimed yesterday that the typical shopper would require "considerable ingenuity" not to be ripped off or exploited when buying new cars, clothes, mobile phones, CDs and DVDs.

The Consumers' Association claimed yesterday that the typical shopper would require "considerable ingenuity" not to be ripped off or exploited when buying new cars, clothes, mobile phones, CDs and DVDs.

In its book, Rip Off Britain: and how to beat it, experts graded markets based on attempts to confuse customers and overcharge them. It says the guide, which includes credit cards and current accounts, could save shoppers thousands of pounds on average.

The book's author, Phil Evans, said the car market was "structurally rigged" and highlighted a scam by CD and DVD producers, who encoded cheaper discs sold in the US so they were incompatible with European players.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the Consumers' Association, said that, through more frequent air travel and the internet, British shoppers were becoming increasingly aware of how to get better deals but much was still to be done.

She said: "The term rip-off Britain is controversial but I think it is justified because on balance far too many operators are not working for the good of the consumer.

"This does not apply to all markets or all companies but we are trying to get people to discriminate against the bad companies and to reward the good ones."

The Consumers' Association has calculated that consumers can save £100 a year by switching their gas and electricity suppliers.

Deregulation of the domestic energy market has highlighted the different charges and the Consumers' Association was critical of a decision by British Gas to increase its prices twice last year.

Consumers are also encouraged to make savings by switching their current accounts from the "Big Four" high street banks. By banking online or going to a smaller organisation, account holders could save a combined £500m annually in charges, the organisation estimates.

A further £5m could be saved every day by credit card holders if they switched to a lender offering better rates.

As well as offering "market-busting" advice, the £5.99 book, published yesterday, explains basic legal rights and offers shopping tips, including making attempts to haggle over the price of goods.

It says markets offering the most competitive deals for customers are for food, books, car hire and hotel rooms.

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