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OFT to clamp down on misleading online travel deals

Regulator talks tough

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Many UK-based online travel sites are breaking the law by making misleading price claims.

Forty per cent (54 out of 135) of UK-based websites visited during an investigation by trading standards officials contained potentially misleading claims, the UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced this week.

The OFT and 55 local trading standards authorities were among 87 enforcement agencies in 24 countries surfing the Internet for websites making potentially false claims about travel deals, as part of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network sweep.

The study identified more than 1,000 problem sites worldwide.

UK-based sites identified as making potentially deceptive, misleading or false claims (or which have breached other consumer laws) are to be pursued by either local trading standards or the OFT with a view to taking further action.

Claims that are being investigated under the Control of Misleading Advertising regulations include:

  • 'Hot deals' on a front page which bear no resemblance to the prices of the holiday actually available on the website
  • An advertisement stating 'Australia from £599' when the cheapest price was £891.60
  • An offer of seven nights in Austria in March for £99, when the cheapest price was £259
  • A claim of 'up to 70 per cent discount off world wide hotel rooms' with no further mention of any savings or discounted deals

More than 100 additional potential breaches of consumer legislation were identified under the E-Commerce Regulations, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations, Package Travel Regulations and Distance Selling Regulations.

The authorities have vowed to get tough on misleading travel deals online, which will be treated no differently feom false inducements promoted by high street shops or through newspaper and Teletext ads.

John Vickers, OFT chairman, said: "The internet is a valuable and expanding resource for consumers and for business. On-line shoppers must have the same protection afforded by the high street, and if traders breach fair trading law, the OFT will pursue them." ®

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