Last year, more than 800 people lost their money and their holidays in scams related to bogus entries on AirBnB. Often first time users, they got ripped off because the scammers were clever and persuaded them to pay them directly, contravening AirBnB's terms and conditions. One poor woman turned up at her destination to discover that not only was the apartment she'd paid for not a legitimate listing, but was in fact in a different country.
Instant gratification required
The trouble with the Internet is that it allows us to do things very quickly, with little thought. It's the perfect environment for getting more out of us than we bargained for. How many times have you arrived at the checkout page only to discover that you'll be charged for using a credit card, charged for postage, etc? That thing you're buying suddenly isn't as much of a bargain, but by that point you're emotionally committed, you really want whatever you're buying, so you usually pay up.
We don't look closely at what we're doing when buying on the Internet, because we're already thinking about what we're going to do with the item or service we've committed to. We have to stop treating it like the High Street where we can see what we're buying, see the person we're buying from and we're pretty sure we haven't walked into a shop that's not what it claims to be.
We need to be more circumspect online. One way of doing that is to understand how these websites want to do business with us and that means reading their Terms and Conditions.
Whose terms and what conditions?
When you register with a website, or buy something from one, you can only do so once you have accepted their terms and conditions, most of the time indicating your consent by ticking a little box (how easy is that?). Perhaps the downside of accepting the Ts and Cs is that you're usually agreeing to let them send you 'offers', or pass your details onto third parties to send you 'offers'. Sometimes, you can be agreeing to a lot more, so it's important to know how they intend to store, use and protect information about you.
When you buy an airline ticket or a book online, you are entering into a contract with a business. In return for your money they will give you what you're paying for, but on their terms and under certain conditions. AirBnB have protections in place if you book and pay through their website. Ryanair will fly you to and from your destination, as long as you don't put stuff in your hold baggage they don't want, like laptops (or hunting trophies!) and they won't take responsibility for any loss or damage to your stuff if you flout those conditions. Don't you think it's worth knowing that before you turn up at the check- in?
When did you last read a set of terms and conditions? Most of the time they aren't difficult to understand but we don't read them because they're boring, it takes too long and they fly in the face of our understanding that the Internet is fast.
Terms and conditions aren't a way of allowing companies to dodge their responsibilities; they are a framework for how they will do business with you. It's a cliche, but you really do need to read the small print.
Posted by Kirsty McIntosh on Wednesday, April 20, 2016