Consumer Authority in 2009: telephone sales practices and sales pitches
In 2009, the Consumer Authority will focus on tackling misleading and aggressive telemarketing practices and sales pitches in addition to taking action with regard to SMS services and guarantees and conformity. Marije Hulshof, Director of the Consumer Authority explains: "Our investigation into unfair commercial practices has shown that many people have experienced problems with misleading and aggressive telephone sales practices and that sales pitches for products such as holiday clubs, among other things, have led to significant financial losses. The new law enables us to take action in this matter. We are continuing to receive a large number of complaints through ConsuWijzer with regard to the issues of SMS services and the provision of guarantees. That is why these two issues once again form part of our agenda this year."
Misleading and aggressive telemarketing
Misleading and aggressive telephone sales featured prominently in the investigation into unfair commercial practices that the Consumer Authority had conducted last year. A great many people have become victims of these practices (810,000 fell victim to them in the past year) and the average financial loss is also relatively high (namely 98 million euros per year). A large number of complaints are also filed through the ConsuWijzer information desk. The Unfair Commercial Practices Act [Wet Oneerlijke Handelspraktijken] has enabled the Consumer Authority to act in this matter. The Consumer Authority is working closely with the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority (OPTA) [Onafhankelijke Post en Telecommunicatie Autoriteit] and the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) [de Energiekamer van de Nederlandse Mededingingsautoriteit] in tackling this issue.
The Consumer Authority will take action against companies who organise sales pitches that make use of intimidation as a way of restricting consumer freedom and which provide misleading information about the product on offer. This action will be targeted at sales pitches that form part of bus trips, in addition to holiday clubs. It emerged from the investigation into unfair commercial practices that the highest average financial losses occurred in dealings with holiday clubs (namely EUR 1084). The Consumer Authority is working closely with its supervisory counterparts in other European countries to tackle the holiday clubs.
In 2009, the Consumer Authority will focus a great deal of its activities as it did in 2008 on tackling the problem of consumers being misled into signing up for a subscription for SMS services. In addition to the ringtones services, other SMS services such as entertainment and dating services will be tackled in 2009. In view of the number of complaints filed by consumers, the Consumer Authority believes there is sufficient reason to once again place this issue at the top of the agenda in 2009. The Consumer Authority imposed fines on a number of ringtone providers during 2008. In addition, the enforcement authority has submitted a number of complaints to the Dutch Advertising Code Authority which have since been upheld. The Consumer Authority has also closely monitored the effectiveness of self-regulation by means of the SMS code of conduct and this approach will continue during the course of 2009.
Guarantees and conformity
The provision of guarantees and conformity has long been a prominent issue. Since ConsuWijzer was first set up, this issue has given rise to the largest number of complaints and queries. A focused, sector-based approach is now required in order to bring about a fundamental change in the conduct of business owners. The Consumer Authority will direct its activities towards the electronics sector in 2009 as it did in 2008. During 2008, this resulted in a chain of computer stores undertaking to amend its practices with regard to the provision of guarantees. The Consumer Authority will take enforcement action against collective violations. In addition, it will increase awareness among business owners of the rules relating to guarantees by means of providing information, including using an e-learning module for business owners and employees in the retail sector.
Results for 2008
The Consumer Authority settled 160 cases during 2008. A report has been compiled for six of these cases and sanctions have been taken against six companies. Thirty-six requests for enforcement and twenty-seven requests for information have been received from other EU Member States. These mainly related to insufficient or incorrect information on websites, misleading mailings, company details or post-office box addresses. A significant number of the requests came from Belgium.