ACM calls on consumers: Say "no" if you think something is wrong
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has observed a dramatic increase in the number of reports regarding unfair practices in telemarketing calls. Consumers are contacted by phone with supposed offers for holidays, cashback services, and other special offers or promotional competitions. Consumers who have only agreed to receiving information are subsequently strongly pressured to pay. ACM warns consumers if they are called by someone they do not trust: clearly say NO, hang up the phone, and do not pay anything. Consumers are thus able to save themselves a lot of misery.
ACM received hundreds of reports from consumers through its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer. These consumers have been harmed by unfair practices in telemarketing calls, which were then followed by aggressive debt collections. Evert Jan Hummelen, acting director of ACM's Consumer Department, adds: "It really does help if consumers say "no" when they think something is not right about the caller or the call. They should also resist caving in to empty threats. ACM wants to tackle these unfair practices and the companies that use them. Consumers can help themselves by saying "no" and by not paying anything. At the same time, doing so will help us in fixing this problem."
What is the problem?
ACM has observed that consumers are increasingly often approached over the phone by providers of concepts like special offers, promotional competitions or holiday offers. In a lot of cases, this is because consumers took part in an online promotion where they could win prizes. If they are subsequently called, they are given the impression as if they have won a prize, but the call itself is really just the first step to an offer. If consumers indicate they would like to receive information, this is taken as a "yes". This "yes" is often recorded and then wrongfully used as leverage to force consumers to pay. In most cases, this is followed by aggressive debt collection methods.
The most important tips:
- Do not enter any personal details in online surveys or promotional competitions, no matter how appealing they may seem. Malicious traders use these to find your phone number and then harass you.
- Do not agree to receiving any "non-binding" information from someone you do not trust, even if it is just to get rid of them.
- Do not pay when the agreement that was created does not meet the relevant requirements (such as the written-consent requirement and the cooling-off period), [AMv1] even if you are pressured to do so. If you do pay, you will perpetuate the problem. Your bank will allow you to reverse the payment for an automatic collection made without your permission
Who is behind all this?
In most cases, a small group of individuals is behind all of these concepts of holiday offers, cashback services, and other special offers or promotional competitions. In some cases, these individuals operate from abroad. They pay little heed to regulations that are in place to protect consumers. That means the agreements are invalid, and that consumers will not have to pay. The business model of these individuals is focused on putting pressure on consumers to pay.
ACM is tackling this problem (e.g. Vakantiegarant, and Pay care), sometimes in collaboration with other market participants. Part of this process also takes place behind the scenes, which means it may not always be apparent to the outside world. Reports to ConsuWijzer regarding these practices and others are valuable for the regulatory process.
ACM very much appreciates consumers who send in questions or reports to Consuwijzer. In the first half of 2018, Consuwijzer received over 30,000 questions and reports. That is an increase of 5 percent over the first half of 2017. This is primarily because consumers are now also able to reach us easily on WhatsApp. You can find Consuwijzer’s contact details here . ConsuWijzer has over 45,000 followers on Facebook, and its website Consuwijzer.nl received 1.6 million visits in the first half of 2018.
Over 2,000 consumer questions and reports submitted in the first half of 2018 concerned issues with debt collection practices. We have learned from conversations with consumers that these issues often occur after they had been approached with offers over the phone. ACM keeps a close watch on the debt collection sector. Earlier this year, ACM imposed a fine on a debt collection agency, and negotiated a commitment, and ACM issued a warning against debt collections by Pay Care.