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ACM imposes a fine for misleading telemarketing practices regarding puzzle subscriptions

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed a fine on Servicecollect for misleading telemarketing activities regarding puzzle subscriptions. It did so using various brand names, including Eduspel. Servicecollect called consumers as a “thank you” for filling out a survey or because they had “great news” for them. In reality, those calls were about selling online puzzle subscriptions at 36.50 euros per month. In addition, consumers were not properly informed about how and when they could cancel these subscriptions. ACM received many complaints about these practices through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. ACM has therefore imposed a fine of 25,000 euros on Servicecollect for these misleading commercial practices.

Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “Businesses that call consumers with the intention to sell them something must be clear at the beginning of the call about who is calling them and what the reason for the call is. Also, they must be clear to consumers about their offer, what it costs, and how consumers can cancel or return it if they change their minds. Telemarketing calls often catch consumers unawares. That is why our advice to consumers is: tell them you are not interested and that you do not wish to be contacted again. After that, hang up the phone. This may prevent a lot of trouble.”

What was this case about?

Servicecollect makes telemarketing calls to sell paid online puzzle subscriptions and puzzle booklets. It does so using various brand names, including Eduspel, Kennisgame, Geheugensport, Quizatlas, and Puzzelspel. In these sales calls, consumers are not given all the information they need in order to be able to make a well-informed decision, even though they are entitled to such information. For example, it is not mentioned straight away that the objective of the call is to sell a subscription, and the information about how to cancel the subscription is unclear and incorrect. As a consequence, consumers were stuck with unwanted subscriptions because it was unclear to them how to get rid of such subscriptions. Through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM received dozens of reports filed by consumers over the past 12 months.

Given the fact that, in 2020, ACM already confronted this business with its misleading practices, in response to which the company said that it would comply with the rules, ACM has now decided to impose a fine. When determining the level of the fine, ACM took into account the company’s financial strength and the fact that this is a sole proprietor.

New telemarketing rules

As telemarketing calls often catch consumers unawares, stringent rules are in place regarding the contents of such phone calls. On 1 July 2021, new, stricter rules also came into effect regarding whom businesses can and cannot call with commercial offers. Consumers can only be called with a commercial offer if they have expressly given their consent to receiving such calls themselves or if they had been recent customers (up to three years prior) of that same business for that particular product or service. Businesses must be able to present that consent. Consumers are able to withdraw their consent by exercising their right to object, telling the business that they do not wish to be contacted again. When the abovementioned violations were committed, these new rules had not yet come into effect.

Servicecollect has the opportunity to file an objection against ACM’s decision.