ConsuWijzer considers unsolicited follow-up shipments of ‘free’ samples a big problem
ConsuWijzer annual bulletin
Vitamin pills, creams, puzzle and children’s books, discount cards, razor blades, underwear: these are all products that you agree to receiving a one-off free sample of, but afterwards you may receive expensive follow-up shipments or you may be stuck with subscriptions that you cannot get rid of. Consumer information desk ConsuWijzer received more than twice as many indications about this problem than it did in 2012. If consumers have not explicitly agreed to follow-up shipments, they do not need to pay for them. However, ConsuWijzer has received indications that they often do pay. Sometimes consumers think that they have done something wrong themselves, for example, that they have not read the small print. Pressured by aggressive debt collection agencies, they do pay.
In 2013, consumer information desk ConsuWijzer, operated by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), received more than 70,000 indications from consumers. These indications serve as an important barometer for the regulator.
Consumers are approached on the internet through Facebook, polls or e-mails, in the streets or by telephone to get to know a particular product or service. The first sample is free, and only the shipping costs must be paid. However, what is left unmentioned (and which is often hidden in the general conditions or in another unusual location of the agreement) is that consumers are in fact subscribing to expensive follow-up shipments through such samples. When consumers finally become aware of this, they will already have received an invoice or the money has already been withdrawn from their accounts without authorization. Cancelling the follow-up shipments is often not possible, as the supplier is hard to reach, cannot be reached at all, or indicates that the cancellation was too late. If bills are not paid on time, a collection agency is frequently hired to collect payment. Consumers pay under pressure, whereas according to the law, follow-up shipments do not need to be paid for if they are unsolicited.
Advice about your rights
ConsuWijzer advises consumers to check their bank statements regularly, and, in case of an incorrect collection, to take immediate action. You could order your bank to reimburse the amount that was collected incorrectly. It is also wise to send the supplier and the collection agency a letter in which the agreement is denied. An example of such a letter (in Dutch) can be found on ConsuWijzer.nl.
ConsuWijzer has previously warned consumers against these practices several times already. Following the indications, ACM took action against a company that had sent unsolicited shipments of vitamin pills and health products, after which this company ended its practices and reimbursed the harmed consumers.
In mid-2014, new European consumer regulations will come into force to protect consumers even better. Consumers will have a grace period not only when making purchases over the phone and online, but also in case of street vending.
ConsuWijzer in 2013
In 2013, ConsuWijzer received more than 70,000 indications and complaints from consumers. ConsuWijzer received the most received indications about:
- Questions about warranty rights in case of a faulty product / faulty service
- Consumer-recruitment methods and advertising (including indications about the Dutch Do-not-call-me register)
- Questions on bills and payments
The sectors about which ConsuWijzer received the most notifications:
- Non-food retail (electronics and home appliances)
- Telecom companies
- Transport and leisure time (for example about unclear travel fares)
The number of indications about telecom companies has decreased, as a result of which non-food retail has become the sector about which consumers complain the most.
The number of indications about the Do-not-call-me register also appears to be declining (2013: 9 percent, 2012: 11 percent, 2011: 14 percent). The trend of indications about online purchases exceeding the number of indications about brick-and-mortar shops continues (2013: internet 14 percent – shops 12 percent, 2012: internet 14 percent – shops 13 percent, 2011: internet 11 percent – shops 14 percent).