ACM has ordered online puzzle company Quiz Atlas to stop sending consumers wrongful bills
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has ordered Dutch online puzzle company Quiz Atlas to stop sending bills and payment reminders to consumers for invalid contracts for its online puzzle service. Quiz Atlas contacted consumers over the phone, asking them to subscribe to its online puzzle services, but its customer-recruitment process did not comply with the statutory consumer protection rules. If consumers enter into contracts for subscriptions to services over the phone, they will have to accept the offer either in writing or digitally. Only if the consumer accepts the offer in writing or in an email, will the contract be deemed valid.
Quiz Atlas’s customer-recruitment practices
Until March 2020, Quiz Atlas recruited customers over the phone. In those calls, telemarketers told consumers that they could get a free trial subscription to the online puzzle service of Quiz Atlas. If consumers subsequently wanted to cancel the service, they would have to do so in their online account within 14 days. If they did not do this, they would be stuck with a subscription for at least three months, at 37.50 euros per month. Many consumers did not receive the email with the instructions on how to cancel. Since no valid contracts had ever been concluded, Quiz Atlas was not allowed to require consumers to pay for the subscriptions. Quiz Atlas has suspended its customer recruitment activities, and has promised ACM to stop contacting consumers about paying their bills.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, comments: “Fortunately, consumers who say ‘yes’ to subscriptions to services over the phone are well-protected by consumer protection rules. That means that consumers do not have to pay anything for contracts that have not been concluded in a legally valid manner.”
Consumer protection for telemarketing calls
Consumers who take out subscriptions to services or take out energy contracts over the phone are only bound to those contracts after they have agreed to them in writing. This is the written-consent requirement. This statutory requirement prevents consumers from being bound to unwanted long-term contracts. The written-consent requirement ensures that consumers are aware that they are concluding a contract. After giving their consent in writing, consumers are still entitled to a 14-day cooling-off period. Quiz Atlas never asked consumers for their written consent, which means no valid contracts have ever been concluded. Consumers are thus not required to pay. Consumers who have paid using direct debit can cancel these direct debits (payment reversals) or claim a refund from their bank. Consumers who have transferred the money, can claim a refund from Quiz Atlas. Over the next few weeks, ACM will check whether the company has fulfilled the promises it made to ACM. If Quiz Atlas fails to do so, ACM will still be able to impose a fine on the company.
Swift approach to consumer problems
ACM has many different instruments at its disposal for solving consumer problems. When selecting the right approach, ACM puts consumers first. In this case, ACM prefers to call the company to account to solve the problem.