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Online shopping: What are the risks? What are my rights?

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Ordered a branded pullover, received a fake fur fleece? Buying at the click of a mouse is convenient, but also fraught with danger. Long delivery times, unclear terms and conditions, defective or incorrect items: How can you avoid nasty surprises when shopping online?

AXA-ARAG’s internet legal expert Isabelle Näf answers the most important questions about shopping on the internet. 

Isabelle Näf, how can I recognize fake shops?

The legal notice on the homepage should give information on owners and location of the shop operators. If this information is missing or is hidden or inconsistent, all warning lights flash red. You should also steer clear of supposed super bargains: Fraudsters are often hiding behind these types of offer. Why should someone sell a branded rucksack for CHF 50 that costs CHF 100 from a reputable trader? Certainly not for charity. 

What are the most frequent problems encountered with unscrupulous online shops?

The terms and conditions of online retailers may contain unusual and unexpected conditions, such as no right to return goods. It’s also possible that the vendor is selling fake branded goods. The result: In the worst case scenario, you as the purchaser of these goods are liable to the brand owner  in the event of a claim for damages  as well as to the criminal authorities. There is also the danger of credit card abuse or fraud.

 

What can I do against credit card fraud?

The golden rule is to buy goods only from trustworthy shop operators. Unfortunately many credit card fraudsters are lurking on the net, waiting for an unsuspecting user to fall into the trap. If you’re a victim of credit card fraud, you should report this immediately to your credit card provider so that it can investigate the fraud as well as stop and prevent further abuse. It’s important that you always check your credit card statements immediately and inform your provider straightaway if something isn’t right or is suspicious. 

The providers are normally obliged to act in the customer’s favor in cases of credit card fraud and compensate for the loss. But it’s not always possible to find out how the card has fallen into the wrong hands. This means you may have to bear the loss, as the credit card provider will not accept any liability. 

Should I save email correspondence?

I would advise you to always do so! If there are problems after buying or returning goods, you have saved the necessary proof in your inbox. You should also always obtain written confirmations of any verbal agreements. 

I never read the terms and conditions. Could that be my undoing? 

Unfortunately yes. The terms and conditions often contain relevant contractual conditions that are accepted when you check a checkbox and become part of the actual contractual content. Specifically, you should always read very carefully the conditions for returning goods, payment terms, delivery costs and deadlines, even if this is tiresome and time-consuming  – and you should do so right away for online shopping.

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Do retailers themselves decide on the right to return goods?

Under Swiss sales law, there is no right to return goods. If goods are not faulty or damaged, there is no legal requirement for goods to be exchanged. This means that the right to exchange or return goods must always be agreed contractually.

What if the online retailer doesn’t stick to the delivery deadline?

If the online retailer doesn’t stick to the delivery deadline, you should set a written brief extension period. If the retailer doesn’t deliver the goods within the extension period, you can threaten to withdraw from the contract and claim back any amounts you have already paid.

Is it advisable to make an advance payment?

I would normally advise people against making any payments in advance by way of an immediate transfer  or advance payment. This is because if the goods are defective or not delivered, you will have to chase the  money you have already paid – this is time-consuming and exhausting. The risk of this happening with major and established suppliers is obviously lower. 

Nobody can rule out being a victim of internet fraud, the tricks are becoming ever more sophisticated. The most important tips: if in doubt, check it out closely, check exactly to whom what data is given and never provide data if asked to do so by email.

Isabelle Näf, legal expert at AXA-ARAG

Is there also a quality label for online shops?

Yes, the Swiss Mail Order Association, for example, works with the “Swiss Online Guarantee” quality label. The quality label stands for a 14-day right to return goods for consumers, purchasing under Swiss laws (duty paid, taxed, no additional costs) and compliance with a code of conduct. Other reputable labels are “Trusted Shops Guarantee”, “EHI Geprüfter Online-Shop” and “Safer Shopping, TÜV Süd”. 

What is phishing and what can I do to prevent it?

Phishing is an attempt to obtain personal data such as login details for email accounts or e-banking  through bogus websites or emails and is therefore an attempt to commit identity theft.  Using the stolen data, fraudsters can misuse the credit cards that are in their victims’ names, make bank transfers or place offers at online auctions. 

To avoid phishing, you should always check before giving passwords and/or user names whether the website or link to which you are directed is actually identical to the respective supplier’s original site. You should be particularly suspicious if a supplier emails you to ask for details or to change passwords or credit card data. No reputable shop operator would ever ask their customers for such information in an email or by phone.

You can also find more tips on how to be safe when shopping on the internet in our blog article “Shop safely online”.

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