Online pleasure seekers left high and dry

Lois Nicholls

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It sounds plausible enough. Who wouldn’t want 75% off a weekend getaway at a luxury resort? Or 50% off a ‘delectable meal for two’?

Yet, it’s been a case of online buyers beware for many unsuspecting Australian bargain hunters keen to snap up seemingly too good to be true deals. And here’s the rub: Sometimes, they are just too good to be true.

Take for example, a friend’s foray into a luxury Byron Bay weekend for two get-away. The online deal was heavily discounted. Her weekend would cost her $245 a couple, in a five star location usually nearly double the price. She snapped up the bargain and received vouchers in the mail securing her purchase.

What the small print didn’t mention is that hundreds like her had also bought vouchers and urgency was paramount when booking a weekend away. When she rung up to book a week later, the unsympathetic receptionist said she would have to wait seven months for a free weekend as they were heavily over-subscribed.

“There were 700 people who bought vouchers, what do you expect?” she asked. “But you can come mid-week, school holidays excluded,” she added unhelpfully.

So, the friend has booked a weekend away in seven months’ time with vouchers she thought were instantly redeemable.

It gets worse. In the first flush of online bargain hunting, and prior to realising the sting in the tail, the friend also purchased two defensive driving courses at a cost of $274 for her teenaged son. Booking was impossible. The driving school owner was away for three weeks and didn’t answer phone calls.

When they finally answered, they couldn’t be pinned down to a definite date. Nine emails and seven phone calls later, the friend is still waiting for a booking.

Having been burnt several times, she had this to say:

“I could have got specials out of season and chosen the time I wanted to go away. The vouchers were a waste of time. I’ve since heard that when it comes to holidays, savvy shoppers first book the weekend to secure a place and then buy the voucher online rather than innocents like me who try and book a week later with no luck.”

The friend finally contacted Consumer affairs and was given the sobering advice simply not to buy online, particularly vouchers.

She has, however, had success with restaurant vouchers, mainly because when booking, one is not obliged to mention the heavily discounted dinner voucher.

“Only tell them once you are about to pay – that way they can’t refuse your booking,” she advised.

eBay has also been a good bet. “I’ve always had success with e-Bay as there is culpability and the rest of the world can see feedback. Paying through PayPal also helps as eBay stands surety for the money.”

Animal lovers can often fall prey to scammers because of the adorable pictures posted of the pet for sale. A friend’s Biloela-based niece ordered a dachsund online from Brisbane as she couldn’t find the particular breed in her area.

The adorable female puppy had a white patch over one eye and the niece fell instantly in love. She checked out the seller and all seemed above board.

She even paid to fly the pup to Rockhampton and drove an hour from her home to fetch it from the airport. The pup that greeted her, however, was far different to the one she’d seen online. Not only was it a male, but it had no markings at all and was clearly not the one listed.  Of course, she didn’t have the heart to send the poor little pup back again so kept it.

When she phoned to complain the owner insisted the pup was the one she had ordered, knowing full well that it wasn’t. The scammers had simply chosen the prettiest pooch to attract buyers and sent the litter’s ugly duckling to the unsuspecting buyer.

While most online shoppers are not buying live animals, having seen the number of scams out there, it seems caution is the order of the day.  A friend bought a particular brand of perfume from a dubious seller on eBay. Dubious in that when the $100 perfume arrived, it smelt like urine.

There are plenty of good sellers out there and I have bought countless items with absolute success. It’s just a case of knowing who the scammers are. Only buy from reputable dealers with a good track record. Check them out before parting with your money. And be especially reticent about booking an online holiday unless you’re absolutely sure of securing your preferred date.

And when it comes to bargain vouchers, remember too that they have a shelf life. That ‘delectable three-course meal’ could well have expired once you finally come to claim your romantic dinner for two.

© Lois Nicholls – www.loisnicholls.com.au

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