Government legislation to clamp down on fake reviews, online rip-offs and rogue traders

The government is issuing new legislation and reforms to help protect consumers as it clamps down on fake reviews, online rip-offs and subscription traps.

The reforms, announced by the government on Wednesday 20 April, will also give the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) more powers to support consumers and crack down on rogue traders.

New laws will make it clearly illegal to pay someone to write, host, commission or facilitate a fake review so people are not cheated by bogus ratings.

Businesses will also now have to make it much easier for consumers to opt out of subscriptions. They must remind consumers that a free trial or low-cost introductory offer is coming to an end and ensure they can exit a contract in a straightforward, cost-effective and timely way, so they are not stuck paying for products or services they no longer want.

To support the enforcement of these additional consumer protections, the government is giving the CMA enhanced powers to tackle rip-offs and bad business practices.

The watchdog will be able to directly enforce consumer law, with new powers to fine firms up to 10% of their global turnover for mistreating customers.

This replaces the current enforcement policy of going through a lengthy court process, which can take years.

“We’re making sure consumer protections keep pace with a modern, digitised economy,” said consumer minister Paul Scully, adding that consumers will no longer be able to “get caught in a subscription in which there’s no end in sight”.

“Consumers deserve better and the majority of businesses out there doing the right thing deserve protection from rogue traders undermining them.”

Read more: The “worst of the worst”: when online retail goes bad

The average UK household is influenced by online reviews to spend around £900 each year, with a further £60 being spent on unwanted subscriptions.The reforms come as the trend towards online shopping has accelerated due to the pandemic, casting a spotlight on bad business practices including fake reviews.

Director of policy at Citizen’s Advice, Matthew Upton, added: “With pressure piling on household budgets, it’s good to see action that’ll make it easier for people to protect their cash.

“The measures to deal with subscription traps are particularly welcome. We hope these will help bring unscrupulous traders to book and stop shoppers being duped by underhand tactics.”

Chief executive of the CMA Andrea Coscelli, described the move as “an important milestone” towards strengthening the CMA’s ability to “hold companies to account, promote fair and open markets, and protect UK consumers”.

She added: “The CMA stands ready to assist the government to ensure that legislation can be brought forward as quickly as possible, so consumers and businesses can benefit.”

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