Online platforms Marktplaats, Bol.com and Amazon combat misleading practices exhibited by providers vis-à-vis consumers. In addition, they step in when traders take advantage of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis by charging exorbitant prices for their products. These are some of the observations made by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). In late-March, ACM, together with the other European consumer authorities along with the European Commission, called on all traders and online platforms to stop exploitation of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. ACM works closely with its EU partners in the fight against cross-border violations of consumer law.
In the current crisis, what are traders allowed to do, and what not?
Traders cannot mislead consumers, for example, about the benefits or the results of a product. Traders cannot make claims that a product is available for a limited time only or that it can cure a disease if that is not true. The three major online platforms in the Netherlands, which are Marktplaats, Bol.com and Amazon, have already taken measures to combat exploitation and abuses. For example, Marktplaats bars the sale of face masks and hand sanitizers by traders, and it steps in when ads contain misleading claims. Bol.com temporarily bars new suppliers of products such as thermometers, painkillers or disinfectants, and it takes action in the case of misleading claims and exorbitant prices. Amazon has said that, during the crisis period, it checks whether traders charge exorbitant prices or make false claims in relation to COVID-19.
Examples of misleading practices
Consumers should pay extra attention if traders on online platforms do any of the following:
- Using texts or images that explicitly or implicitly suggest that a product is able to prevent or cure coronavirus infections.
- Referring to non-official physicians, health professionals, experts or other non-official sources that claim that a product is able to prevent or cure coronavirus infections.
- Referring to government agencies, official experts or international organizations (including the use of their names and logos) that allegedly have endorsed the claims regarding the product’s protective and healing properties without providing any hyperlinks or references to official documents.
- Using scarcity claims such as "only available today", "will sell out fast".
- Making statements about the market such as 'lowest price on the market', 'this is the only product that is able to cure coronavirus infections' or something similar.
- Charging prices that lie far above the normal price range for comparable products because they allegedly are able to prevent or cure coronavirus infections.
When encountering misleading practices, consumers can file reports with ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer (in Dutch).