ACM is calling on consumers: “say ‘no’ if it does not feel right”

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has observed a dramatic increase in the number of reports regarding misleading practices in telemarketing calls. Since the beginning of the year, ACM, through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer, has received daily reports from consumers that are forced to pay for ‘agreements concluded over the phone’. That is why ACM has issued a warning to consumers.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, says: “Say ‘no’ and hang up if it doesn’t feel right. Don’t have them send you ‘additional information’ either. Otherwise you may end up receiving fraudulent payment reminders.”

Lucky winner

You are probably already familiar with calls like these: a friendly voice on the other end informs you that ‘you are the lucky winner of a prize’ after you filled out a survey or that ‘you have been exclusively selected’ and that they have ‘an exciting message for you’. In most cases, it means you will receive free information about, for example, a holiday or a city trip, a puzzle subscription, or a personal-care product. Even though you had only agreed to receiving free information (not a binding offer) or a free sample, you are still pressured to pay huge sums of money, even if you had not formally agreed to anything. That is why ACM gives the following tips to consumers that are called by someone they do not know:

  • Say NO clearly
  • Do not provide your home address or email address
  • End the conversation
  • Do not pay anything

Following these tips will help consumers save themselves a lot of problems.

What is the problem?

ACM has seen an increase in the number of reports from consumers about unsolicited offers over the phone. In many cases, they are called because they had taken part in an online campaign or had filled out a survey where they could win prizes. When they are subsequently called, they are given the impression that they have won a prize, but the call is really just a way to pique the caller’s interest. During the call, some incoherent story is told about, for example, a holiday or city trip, which is presented as something truly special and basically for free. Next, a recording of the call is made so that the arrangements can be finalized. After this step, the consumer is informed that they have to cancel the offer themselves within 14 days if they do not want to be stuck to a paid service. However, for canceling the offer, they often have to log in on a website. Many consumers complain that they have not received any email with such login information.

What are your rights?

There are various regulations that protect consumers in these kinds of situations. Saying ‘yes’ over the phone alone often does not mean that you are bound to a contract or a subscription. The consumer must have given written consent if it involves an energy-related service or a subscription for certain services. A simple ‘yes’ on a tape recording, which is sometimes used as leverage, is not enough. Written consents are not needed if a physical product is offered. Yet, even with physical products, businesses are required to provide sufficient information, the cooling-off period only starts after the product has been received, and the company cannot mislead consumers over the phone. The seller must prove that they have complied with all the rules, and that they have provided the consumer with all the necessary information, before and after the call. If they have not, then any contract that may have been concluded is considered invalid, and the consumer does not need to pay anything. Unfortunately, consumers often do not know that they are statutorily protected against such practices. They are pressured to pay anyway, even though they do not have to.

What can consumers do themselves?

This is what you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a victim:

  1. Do not enter any personal details in promotional competitions or online surveys, no matter how appealing they may seem. Malevolent traders use these to find your phone number and subsequently harass you.
  2. Do not agree to receiving any ‘free’ information from someone you do not trust, even if it is just to get rid of them. Say ‘no’, do not give out your address (including your email address), and end the conversation.
  3. Do not pay anything! In many situations, any contracts or agreements that may have been signed actually do not comply with consumer regulations. As a result, such contracts and agreements are considered invalid or can be annulled. Any direct debit transaction that was collected without your consent can be cancelled by your bank.

Reports filed with ACM ConsuWijzer

Reports filed with ACM ConsuWijzer about these and other practices are valuable for ACM’s oversight. ACM very much appreciates consumers that submit questions or reports to ACM Consuwijzer.

On July 1, the telemarketing regulations will change. Starting that date, businesses can only call consumers that have agreed to receiving such calls or that have been customers of those businesses.