Consumer protection legislation protects consumers from sales tactics that traders may employ to pressure them into buying products or services they may not really want or need.
As a general rule, a commercial practice is considered aggressive if, by means of harassment, coercion or undue influence, it significantly impairs (or is likely to significantly impair) consumers’ freedom of choice, which then leads consumers to take a buying decision that they would otherwise not have made. Sales tactics that take advantage of consumers who the trader could foresee as vulnerable because of mental or physical infirmity, age or credulity, are also considered aggressive and hence illegal.
The Unfair Commercial Practices Regulations, besides banning aggressive practices in general, also blacklists specific sales tactics, regardless whether or not these practices affect consumers’ buying decisions. This blacklist includes the situations where:
• traders enter consumer’s home and refuse to leave until the latter agree to conclude a sales contract;
• consumers are given the impression that they cannot leave the traders’ premises until they finalise a sale;
• traders take consumers to a remote destination with no apparent return transport unless they agree to buy the product or service offered for sale;
• traders use scare tactics to convince consumers to buy a product;
• children are manipulated through advertisements directly aimed at them to buy certain products or to persuade adults to buy the products for them;
• traders or marketing companies make use of persistent and unwanted solicitations, by phone, e-mail or any other form of communication, to pressure consumers to purchase products or services;
• traders send products that consumers did not order and then demand payment for these products; and
• traders use guilt to force consumers to buy something by telling them if they do not buy, the seller would lose their job.
These aggressive commercial practices are prohibited in any business-to-consumer transaction, where a consumer is a person who buys a product or service for personal use or consumption and a business or trader is a person acting for purposes related to their trade, business or profession.
Furthermore, these rules apply to any type of product or service purchased, regardless whether the transaction was made face-to-face, via telephone, internet or mail.
It is worth noting that consumer legislation only protects the consumers’ economic situations, and hence when falling victim to an aggressive sales practice, consumers may only claim refund of money spent. Issues related to health, safety, taste and decency are outside the scope of the legislation.
Aggressive sales practices may be reported to the Office for Consumer Affairs at the MCCAA so that action is taken to stop these practices. Unresolved disputes with traders may also be reported to this office for assistance to obtain appropriate redress.
Odette Vella, Director, Information and Research Directorate
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