BAD SANTA: Don't get ripped off this Christmas

Caveat emptor and then some

Monty Python dead parrot sketch

Feature The season of horror and expense will soon be upon us, and with it lots of gift guides telling you what you should be forking out for. But before we get stuck into that, how you should buy it is just as important.

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As the recent collapse of Phones4U showed, even something as simple as choosing the wrong way to pay for a gadget can leave you with a bit of a headache at the very least, not to mention a gap under the tree.

And what if the thing you've bought turns up, but it's not quite what you expected? Or it's dead on arrival? What then? How long do you have to take it back, and should you get all the cash?

Over the last decade, there have been quite a few changes to the law, so we thought we'd round up some of the most important points for UK tech shoppers to keep in mind. Some of the information here – especially that based on EU directives – will apply to people in the rest of Europe as well.

Most of the time, of course, nothing goes wrong, but it never hurts to know exactly what your rights are, so here's a quick Reg guide to retail risks.

Payment protection

The best way for UK shoppers to get protection for large purchases is to use a credit card, as long as what you're buying costs over £100 and less than £30,000. Thanks to Section 75 of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act, the card issuer is jointly liable, and the protection includes items where you've paid a deposit of over £100 on the card, but settled the balance in another way.

The protection offered, in effect, makes the card company liable in exactly the same way as the retailer. Not only does it mean that if the shop goes bust – as in the Phones4U case – you'll get your money back, but if there's a problem with something, the card company is also liable.

So, for instance, if a new TV develops a fault, and the shop maintains that it's nothing to do with them, you can take the matter up with the card company. In practice, very often if a retailer is being awkward, simply telling them that you'll deal with the card company may be enough to make them take notice. Small shops especially don't want to end up getting items charged back, and perhaps risking their card facilities.

Of course, not everyone has a credit card, or you may simply prefer to pay by a debit card. If you do, however, it's important to be aware that the protection offered by a debit card, while comparable to that offered by credit cards, is not a legal obligation. Instead, it's a scheme offered by the banks, and referred to as chargeback.

Next page: Claims direct



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