Firms in North Yorkshire which specialise in distance selling could find themselves being caught out badly by a new law on consumer rights, a York solicitor has warned.

Unless consumers are told in writing by Internet, telephone sales or mail order businesses about a new right to return bought goods within seven days of receiving them, the consumer's unconditional right will be extended by three months.

Tony Ridge, partner heading up the commercial department of Denison Till, York, said he had waited in vain for a big rush to find out how distance sellers could avoid the toughest aspects of the new Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000.

"But so far I have had one inquiry. It's astonishing that this law, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, has received so little publicity and yet is likely to have huge repercussions."

The new law gives the consumer the right to return the goods within a week - extended by three months if not informed - and to get a refund.

Mr Ridge said: "While the goods are in the buyer's possession he or she must take 'reasonable care' of them but is not precluded from using them. Think of what that means.

"If a consumer buys a pair of shoes by mail order without being told of new rights, he or she can carefully wear them for three months and then elect to return them and get back the money they paid.

"Even worse - it is the trader's task to get the goods back!

''Technically all the consumer needs to do in order to claim their cash is to send notice of cancellation. From then on, the onus is on the trader."

Mr Ridge advises any trader who uses distance selling techniques to review their 'terms and conditions' to ensure they contain the necessary "magic words".

He said: "Similar rules apply to services although these may already have been irrevocably rendered before the consumer exercises his or her right to a refund."