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That £76 Vaio notacontract receipt explained

WorldPay speaks, Foris doesn't

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After two days of dead silence, The Register has been given a statement on the Foris £76 Viao fiasco - but from WorldPay, not Foris. Silence continues to reign in that particular quarter.

Foris, you may recall, accidentally advertised Sony Vaios at £76 last Friday, along with a number of other products with prices listed as low as 1p. The legal position for people who thought they'd bought any of these products is dependent on two things; first, whether there was a contract between themselves and Foris, and second, whether they genuinely believed that the products were being deliberately offered at those prices, rather than having been priced in error. The latter, depending on the answer, could void any contract that existed, but it is the former, the existence of a contract, that WorldPay's statement addresses.

So first, was the customers' money accepted? No, says the statement:

"WorldPay processes credit and debit card transactions for Foris by securely capturing card details and carrying out an initial authorisation check on the card presented, to ensure that the card is valid and there are sufficient funds to cover the transaction. The card issuer may 'ring-fence' the required amount of credit for up to 5 days (for UK cardholders) following this check. Whilst ring-fenced, the funds have not been debited from the card.

"If Foris accepts the transaction within the 5 days, the payment is then processed. If not, the ring-fencing will lapse and the funds will be once again accessible to the cardholder. WorldPay understands that Foris is not accepting these incorrectly priced orders and the card payments will therefore not be processed."

Credit card companies have been reporting to would-be customers that the money has been deducted, and haven't been saying anything about ring-fencing. But if such a procedure really is in place, presuming five working days are meant here, "the funds will be once again accessible to the cardholder"(s) by Monday of next week. It's a puzzle, isn't it people? If the money isn't currently accessible to you, and if they haven't got it either, where is it?

The existence or not of the contract is however more important:

"In addition, we would like to clarify that the electronic communication provided by WorldPay when an online transaction is attempted, indicates that payment details have been captured by our system and does not form a contract with the shopper. The communication provides shoppers with a record of the transaction and contact details for WorldPay should any help be required. In this particular case, WorldPay has been pleased to provide advice and support where it can."

Now, this does not look to us quite as cut and dried as the above suggests. The "electronic communication" referred to is headed "WorldPay Digital Receipt," and although it emanates from secure.worldpay.com with a return address of orders@worldpay.com, the content of the from: field is ianedd@netscape.net. This ID is the one you mail if you have queries about Foris orders, quoting your Digital Receipt number. Not that it seems to answer, but if you receive a receipt apparently from the vendor, you'd kind of presume it was a receipt from the vendor.

Nowhere in the communication/receipt does it specify that it's not actually a receipt for your order, that it doesn't form a contract, or indeed that it's only an acknowledgement of, er, something - that WorldPay has details of how you'd pay if the vendor actually wishes to take you up on your offer of a contract. While we have difficulty in conceiving of the court that could be convinced that you genuinely thought you could get a wotsit for 1p, it seems pretty clear that any rational person unversed in the intricacies of WorldPay would believe that this communication was a receipt from the vendor, and hence a contract.

If it is not a contract, then it would seem reasonable for it to specifically say so, explaining why, and then one might muse about the implications for e-commerce if vendors can give themselves this amount of leeway. It's something of a mare's nest that looks susceptible to legal enquiry to us. Meanwhile, there are a number of groups of would-be customers comparing notes, and you can find a fairly comprehensive one here. ®

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