Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Saturday, 13 March 2010

Online retailers passing on shoppers' bank details

By Paul Lewis
Presenter, Radio 4's Money Box

Mystery debits
Some online customers have spotted mystery debits

The Information Commission has warned online shoppers to avoid inadvertently agreeing to allow retailers to share their details with other firms.

Customers of several online companies told the BBC that they did not realise they were agreeing to join discount services when clicking on links.

They uncovered it when amounts of up to £99 were taken from their accounts.

The companies involved denied being unclear and said customers who had complained were refunded.

Veronica Hayton told Money Box on Radio 4 that she bought some storage bags from

A month later the company called to see if she was happy and then asked if she wanted a holiday discount brochure.

"I noticed it referred to a 30-day free trial but then next thing I knew a firm called Break4Free had taken £99 out of my current account without my authority.

"I wasn't aware that debit card details had been passed on by the original supplier."

It is not about complying with the law it's about making sure your customers know what's happening with their information
David Smith, deputy information commissioner

Veronica questioned the transaction but when she asked for a tape of the phone conversation was told it had been deleted. She was refunded in full.


Another listener, David Strange, told Money Box that he had bought a ticket on and then was asked to click a link to get a £15 discount off his next purchase.

Mr Strange then re-entered his card details, believing this was necessary to receive the discount.

But he was surprised to find money was then taken from his account by a company called Shopper Discounts and Rewards.

Mr Strange argues that this was not made clear enough at the time of purchase:

"Having seen the website again it states there is a £10-a-month charge.

"But a lot of people might not realise and might not check their account to notice the £10 a month charge."

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith warned companies that they did not just have to comply with the letter of the law.

"Some businesses [think] so long as it is there in the small print somewhere that's good enough. But it isn't.

"It is not about complying with the law it's about making sure your customers know what's happening with their information."

Refunds promised

Spacebags admitted that bank details were passed on to Break4Free.

But Break4Free told Money Box it would refund people who complained.

Shopper Discounts and Rewards also promised to refund unhappy customers.

"It is very important that all customers understand the benefits before they join so we ensure that offer pages are clear and straightforward."

David Smith said: "These notices have to be upfront and obvious and if there is financial information and a charge involved you'd expect it to be up there in flashing lights.

"We do have some cases involving and Shopper Discounts and Rewards.

"If we are satisfied their practices are improper and they won't change voluntarily we will use our enforcement powers to require them to do so."

But he warned that customers had to be smart when shopping online too.

"The responsibility isn't all one way. Consumers shouldn't go to websites with their eyes shut or blinkers on."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box is broadcast on Saturdays at 12 noon, and repeated on Sundays at 2100h. Download the podcast.

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