Too good to be true? Unsolicited goods

Friday, 15. March 2013

ECC-Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland have published a report entitled "Too good to be true? It probably is! - Unfair Commercial Practices and Unsolicited Goods" focusing on unsolicited goods, supposedly free of charge, sent to consumers. For many consumers it then turns out that the product isn´t free at all and somehow the consumer may have entered into some sort of subscription. Number of complaints regarding such business practises has increased in the last few years and in the report consumers can find some good advice on how to avoid problems sterning form being sent "free" merchandise.

Here below is the press release of the working group but the report itself can be found here.

“Free trial” and “only 1 EUR” are popular and frequently used catchphrases on the Internet these days. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. This report produced by European Consumer Centres in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden mainly focuses on the growing amount of cases in which consumers in Nordic countries are misled into a costly subscription contract.

During the last couple of years the European Consumer Centres in the Nordic countries have experienced an increase in complaints regarding test packages and unsolicited goods. Consumers respond to an advertisement on the Internet for a free or very cheap test package of for example anti wrinkle crèmes and diet pills. In the process they provide the trader with their credit card details and later it turns out that the consumers are misled into entering an on-going contract with the trader. Most commonly the problems emerge around:
• How to reclaim the money charged by the company.
• How to exercise their right of withdrawal during the cooling off period.
• What to do with the received goods.

The ECC-Net recommends that consumers pay special attention to the following:
• Check who you are dealing with: go to the company’s official website.
• Always read terms and conditions –especially about your rights to withdrawal from the contract, the company’s cancellation and return policy and the small prints.
• If you order from an advertisement online, make sure to do screenshots of the order process so that you are not inadvertently agreeing to a subscription.
• If you ended up unwillingly in a subscription, withdraw from the contract and keep a copy.
• You have no liability and you do not have to pay for products you have not ordered.
• If you have not ordered a product, you are not required to pay when a debt collection company contacts you, but it is important that you dispute the claim.

This report shows that there is a need for more information for consumers on how to spot disingenuous traders when shopping on the Internet. Consumers should be made aware of the various marketing and selling methods used by certain companies so that they can identify them in advertisements and on websites. Many consumers do not know what to check before shopping online and how to act if they encounter problems afterwards. It can be difficult to prove that the information given in the ordering process was misleading. For this purpose the report provides a “before and after” checklist for consumers as the Nordic ECC offices see that there is a clear need to inform consumers.

This report also recommends a closer cooperation between the ECC-Net and other stakeholders in order to increase consumers’ awareness when ordering test packages.  It is very important to handle these types of cases without undue delay, as many consumers are being affected during a short time period. It is important to quickly warn and act against companies engaged in this type of business practice.