Avoid unnecessary charges online


March 15 is World Consumer Rights Day, and this year ECC Sweden and the Swedish Consumer Agency address the problems with intermediaries on the Internet.

An intermediary, also known as brokers, is a company that thrives on communicating online goods and services between customers and the company that represents the actual product or service.

There are of course entirely legitimate intermediaries who make an honest sales work out there, but the industry also attracts companies operating on the borderline of fraud. Within the EU, March has been appointed Fraud Prevention Month. That is the reason why ECC Sweden and the Swedish Consumer Agency has chosen to pay attention to the problems with online intermediaries, on the World Consumer Rights Day.

Do not pay for anything that is supposed to be free of charge

A common problem is that the intermediary does not perform any actual work, but they still charge the customer. Here are some examples: 

  • Online services that guides you into getting an instant loan, but for a fee. But the only actual thing that the service does is to direct you to the loan company – a web page that you just as easily could have found on your own, free of charge.
  • European websites that will charge you for sending the blue EU health card, that you need when travelling abroad. The exact same service is free of charge when you go through the authorities in your country.
  • Websites where you are lead on to believe that you get a free car valuation, when it actually costs money.
  • Websites originating from the US, where they offer you to purchase an electronic travel authorization (ESTA) to the US for as much as 100 dollars – an authorization that only costs 14 dollars through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The service itself is not illegal

A company that aims to charge you for something that is offered for free elsewhere, is actually not illegal. But it is important that the company always informs you about the total price of their services, and that they are upfront about the contract terms for the product or service. As a consumer you need to be aware that these kind of companies does exist, and that you might be charged for something that is supposed to be free if you are not careful. 

If you still need the service offered by the intermediary, do not pay for anything until you have checked if the same service is available for free directly from the involved authority, company or organization.