Christmas is upon us again. Doesn’t it come round quickly?
It’s certainly a hectic time of year.
I must say I always do get a little stressed, there is so much to do, presents to buy, queues in supermarkets to endure.
And it is also a busy time at the Trading Standards office.
I work as a Trading Standards Community Support Officer in Kendal so my main role is to provide consumer advice and give talks on a variety of subjects including scams and problem areas.
The run up to Christmas and early January is our busiest time of year and I can appreciate the frustration when things go wrong.
For Christmas shopping I actually prefer to trail round the local shops and markets looking for gifts, rather than shopping on the internet.
Many of you will shop online though, as it can be easier and quicker.
If you buy online you normally get a seven-day cooling off period for goods, but there can be exceptions.
My one piece of advice is to check the terms and conditions before you buy, particularly the delivery date.
If you have children (or a husband) waiting for the latest toy or gadget then the last thing you need is for the presents to fail to arrive on time or not to arrive at all.
This week we received a complaint from someone who ordered clothing online but then received a letter to inform him the goods had been detained by UK Border Agency because they were fake.
Every year innocent consumers lose hard-earned cash by ordering goods from dodgy websites.
Many of the websites look genuine and it can be difficult to tell if they are fake, even for a Trading Standards officer.
There is a great website called Brand-I (www.brand-i.org/brands).
On it you can find a directory of websites authorised to sell branded or designer goods.
If you know the brand you are looking for it is a good place to start.
Fake goods might seem like a cheaper option but they can be dangerous and could cost you more in the long run.
If I am buying gifts which cost over £100 I use my credit card. This is because you receive extra protection from your credit card provider if something goes wrong.
Also please make sure that the padlock symbol is displayed or that ‘https’ is in the website address before inputting your personal and payment details.
Another tip is to check the goods when they arrive and keep a note of order numbers and traders address.
It can be difficult to keep track of what has been ordered and from where.
A friend of mine complained last week that a shop refused to give her a refund money because she changed her mind about a gift she had purchased.
She was surprised when I told her that that shops only have to give a refund if the product is faulty or not as described.
If you change your mind or it is the wrong size you are not legally entitled to a refund.
Fortunately, most shops offer refunds or exchange as a gesture of goodwill but check the refund policy first and ask for a gift receipt if you are buying for someone else.
Well, finally from me and the rest of the Trading Standards team, have a great Christmas and enjoy your shopping but remember - stay safe and protect yourself from consumer scams.
For advice on consumer issues call the advice helpline on 08454 04 05 06 or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk
Jane Tideswell, Cumbria Trading Standards