The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed a fine of EUR 745,000 on Dutch hobby and collecting company Lecturama Uitgeverij for unfair commercial practices such as sending unsolicited follow-up shipments (a practice also known as ‘subscription traps’), and for violation of telemarketing rules. ACM additionally imposes a fine of EUR 300,000 on the individual who exercised de facto leadership over these violations. Lecturama, a company specializing in hobby and collecting products, ceased its telesales operations in September 2013. Since February 1, 2015, the company has been dissolved and has been in liquidation, but continues to exist. That is why ACM is still able to impose a fine.
Anita Vegter, Member of the Board of ACM, adds: “Companies that harm consumers in various ways ultimately harm consumer confidence in the market. Wherever needed, we act against commercial practices such as these by imposing fines on companies and individuals.”
Between October 1, 2011, and June 25, 2013, Lecturama contacted a substantial number of consumers through telemarketing calls, its website, and regular mail in order to sell its products. When selling over the phone and through its website, Lecturama violated the law. Consumers who ordered a sample product from Lecturama at a low price were subsequently sent unsolicited hobby and collecting products, which they had to pay for. In addition, consumers were not explained clearly over the phone what was offered to them, and they were wrongfully asked for a direct debit authorization.
In 2011, ACM (formerly the Netherlands Consumer Authority in this case) already warned Lecturama following complaints filed by consumers. The company then promised to reorganize its sales operations, and to oversee its call centers more strictly. At the time, that promise was enough for ACM to leave it at a warning. However, in the fall of 2011, an increase in the number of complaints about Lecturama could be observed again, peaking in the second half of 2012. Following that spike, ACM launched an investigation, which has now resulted in these fines.
Consumer awareness campaign
ACM keeps a close watch on companies that send unsolicited follow-up shipments to consumers, and charge them for these shipments. ACM will, if necessary, force businesses to comply with the rules by imposing sanctions on them. Furthermore, ACM is currently running a consumer awareness campaign ‘No order, no pay’ (in Dutch: ‘Niet besteld? Geef geen geld!’) following reports from consumers about unsolicited follow-up shipments. Consumers are given advice about how to find out whether or not they have actually agreed to paid follow-up shipments, and whether or not they need to pay for them. If consumers stop paying for unsolicited follow-up shipments, companies will automatically stop employing such unfair commercial practices.