April 4th 2017
The school prom night season will be upon us before we know it, and parents of teenagers currently working towards their exams will know only too well the anticipation and excitement that it brings. The dress, suit, limousine (or double-decker bus / fire engine), after-party and fake tan are all essentials for today’s prom.
However, parents and prom-goers are being warned to be on their guard when ordering items online, as many have found disappointment in the past, and many will no doubt do so again this year.
Our warning concerns dresses and limousines – two of the items most commonly bought online.
Peter Holmes, Senior Trading Standards Practitioner in Worcestershire, said: “Prom Night is often the highlight of the school year and we recognise that young consumers want to look their best for such an important occasion. As with all goods sold, there are unscrupulous scammers and con artists who are just waiting to exploit what should be an exciting and happy occasion.
"We would urge consumers not to rush into anything and just do a few simple checks before you commit yourself to buying that dream dress or outfit. Most of all we wish everyone a happy Prom Night.”
Peter’s comments follow an increase in complaints about dress purchases, where the high price of prom dresses and accessories in retail stores is likely to drive teenagers to search for cheaper alternatives online. The dresses delivered from some websites are often very different from those advertised, with complaints received by Trading Standards relating to incorrect garments being received, poor quality materials, or dresses arriving after the event has taken place, despite being ordered in ample time. In some cases, the goods advertised do not exist at all … a case of pure fraud.
Many such websites, despite appearing to be UK-based, are based in the far east, meaning that you have virtually no rights in the event of one of the above issues.
Worcestershire Trading Standards advises you to take some simple steps to protect yourself and avoid disappointment:
– Ensure the website has UK contact details – name, address, phone number and email address.
– Is the website secure? Look for https:// (‘s’ stands for secure) and the locked padlock in the browser bar.
– For extra protection use a credit card, if the goods are more than £100 the credit card provider has equal liability for most problems that may arise, for example if the trader goes bust you can claim against the credit card (excellent added protection, but pay the balance before interest is added).
– Avoid sites that will not take credit cards.
– Always read the terms and conditions – don’t just tick the box.
– Print off all paperwork, including website details, descriptions, and confirmation details.
– Internet purchases within the EU generally have a 14 day cancellation period, so make sure the website owner is based in the UK (a .co.uk website address is no guarantee of this).
– Check the website registrant details to confirm where the website is actually based.
– If buying from eBay or similar auction sites, familiarise yourself with the rules and practices.
– If buying from abroad it may be extremely difficult to sort out problems if they arise, the laws of the applicable country will apply. In that case use a credit card.
– Counterfeit goods are frequently sold online, so buy only from well established, familiar sites.
– Goods purchased outside the EU may be liable to customs and excise duties and VAT.
Renting limousines for the big night can also be risky, as many prom-goers and their parents have found out over the years. This can apply to vehicles you arrange online as well as over the phone. Stories range from no-shows for limousines paid for in advance, owing to unreliability of either the vehicle, the operator, double-booking or a non-existent limo – to dangerous, non-roadworthy vehicles that put your children’s lives at risk.
We should stress that there are many reputable and honest limousine operators and you should find them by reading honest reviews and asking people you trust for recommendations.
To report an incident or for advice on your rights, contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06 or use the secure online report form which can be found here: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue