The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is supporting a trading standards report calling for better protection for Internet shoppers.

Called Surfing the Big Wave, the report highlights problems in policing the web and calls for a properly trained body to ensure that consumer protection rules are enforced on the net as well as in 'bricks and mortar' shopping locations.

The report comes following the collapse of several motor vehicle purchase web sites, leaving many who have paid deposits with little chance of refunds.

Local media reports have also focussed on delays and poor customer service from car e-tailers.

The misuse of illegal price comparisons in particular concerns the industry, the SMMT said in a statement.

Many web sites imply that the manufacturers' list price is what consumers must pay if they choose to buy from a UK dealer, breaking laws on advertising.

While the list price is used as a guide, many consumers negotiate 'significant' discounts through local franchised dealers.

"We believe that the law on advertising is clear but that many web sites choose to deliberately flout the rules," SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said.
"Price comparisons must be based on like for like, so to suggest that a list price is not open to negotiation and that savings can only be made through a web site is wrong.

"It ignores the savings consumers can make through UK franchised dealers and we welcome trading standards' call to tighten the net on all aspects of web retailing."

The Control of Misleading Advertisement Regulations, which prohibit the use of comparative advertising that misleads consumers, came into force in the UK on 23 April.

The regulations follow the Department of Trade and Industry's Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications which states that price comparisons should only be made if they are 'accurate and valid'.