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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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Off-premises selling - how to avoid being duped

< previous | next > 19.02.2018

Off-premises selling - how to avoid being duped
  • The decoy is free medical examination, which takes 10-20 seconds, home rehabilitation, lectures on a healthy lifestyle, gifts, and even John Paul II - all in order to convince elderly, sickly people to purchase.
  • UOKiK imposed penalties on 5 companies that sell goods during presentations and demonstrations.
  • They were accused of concealing the real purpose of the meetings, misleading as to the product properties, and using unlawful promissory notes.

A trip with pots demonstration, offering irradiation lamps during a lecture, presentation of massagers, medical examination combined with sale of dietary supplements - irregularities often occur during such meetings. Sometimes consumers are mislead to buy an unnecessary and too expensive product, and then they face problems with return or complaint procedure. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is trying to normalize the shopping market during presentations. It has just issued 6 decisions. Five undertakings have been fined in the total amount of over PLN 484,000*. These are: Aqua Med and Carpe Diem Med from Opalenica, Iscomed from Wroc³aw, Housefire (former Hausfeuer) from Poznań, and Biomed Centrum Kruszka, Kruszka from Smolnica. Whereas FHU Exito from Opalenica has committed to remove the effects of consumer rights infringement.

“These undertakings violated the collective interests of consumers, for example, they did not provide clients with reliable information on the products offered and the commercial purpose of the meetings. They deliberately misled them to make purchases that consumers would not have made otherwise” - says Marek Niechcia³, the President of UOKiK. “It was also unacceptable to make them sign unlawful promissory notes, to limit the warranty rights or to discourage the return of goods” - he adds.

Challenged sellers' tricks:

  1. Concealed purpose of the meeting.
  • Biomed Centrum sent “notifications” about free treatments as part of nationwide “We give health” and “Health for you” campaigns. Not only did they not say a word about the sale of goods (irradiating lamps), but they also emphasized: “This is NOT a sale of pots and bedding” or “The meeting is not dedicated to wool bedding, pots, massage mattresses, massagers, etc.”.
  • Iscomed sent “referrals” to a free skeletal system examination. As a result, customers could be mislead to think the examination is the main purpose of the meeting, while in fact it took 10-20 seconds, and the results were generated automatically. Much more time was devoted to presentation of massage devices, dietary supplements and cosmetics.
  • Carpe Diem Med called elderly people to offer a free, home rehabilitation of “spine, joints, rheumatic pains”. But the telemarketers did not reveal the commercial purpose of the visit. As the recordings show, when asked by consumers, they denied the meeting would be combined with selling. In practice, the treatment consisted of connecting to an electrostimulator, which then could be bought in a set with a mattress cover.
  1. Fallacious product information. Aqua Med representatives claimed the presented thermal mat was used by John Paul II. This could not be true, as the production of this mat began after the Pope's death. Also, the information on the company's website that the mat was “patented throughout Europe” turned out to be untrue.
  2. Unlawful promissory notes. Housefire used blank promissory notes while selling on the instalment basis. They included a clause: “I will pay without protest for this blank promissory note to order...”. Such a provision is prohibited by the Consumer Credit Act - on the promissory note there should be words "not to order" or an equivalent expression. It protects consumers against the so-called endorsement, or transfer of rights under the promissory note to another person.
  3. No document copies for the customer. FHU Exito did not leave a promissory note declaration or the promotion terms and conditions, which were an integral part of the sales agreement, with customers. The company has committed to: return the promissory note declarations and promissory notes to customers, offer them an annex to the agreement, send them the promotion terms and conditions.
  4. Impeding the return of goods. Housefire charged most of the customers who withdrew from the agreement within 14 days with the cost of damage to the returned goods or its packaging without the possibility to verify these circumstances on the basis of
    a properly prepared damage report. The amounts were determined unilaterally. The documents do not contain a courier signature or a detailed damage description and its valuation (usually equal to the advance payment previously collected from the customer). Housefire prepared only internal protocols of damage to the packaging/box or goods, which they did not send to consumers, so they could not respond to accusations or submit a timely complaint to the parcel service provider.
  5. Limiting the warranty rights. The template agreement used by FHU Exito included
    a provision limiting the right to make a complaint on a defective good. It obliged the consumer to send back the product "within no more than two months after discovering an inconsistency and no later than two years from the delivery of the goods". There are no such terms in the Act. The company has committed to: notify customers of the UOKiK’s decision and offer them an annex to the agreement without the challenged provision.

* Fines imposed on the companies:

Housefire: PLN 360,012; the company must also return promissory notes with “to order" clause and amounts unjustly charged due to damage of good or packaging to its customers,

Biomed Centrum Kruszka, Kruszka: PLN 39,222

Iscomed: PLN 36,811

Carpe Diem Med: PLN 27,964

Aqua Med: PLN 20,548

How to avoid being duped at the presentation?

  • Read the invitations carefully. It should honestly inform about the purpose of the meeting. Do not get deceived it's all about free examination or lecture. Remember that gifts are usually not for free - consider if they are worth your time and risking temptation.
  • Don’t take a hasty decision. You have the right to reliable information about the products offered. Ask about their properties, compare prices. Do not let yourself get convinced you must buy the item immediately, because later you will not have the opportunity.
  • Be careful when buying on instalment basis. Read carefully the agreement and attachments, including the text written in "small print". Check if there are any hidden additional costs. If you sign blank promissory notes, make sure they include “not to order" clause or an equivalent expression.
  • Request the documents. The seller must give you a copy of the agreement, all attachments, and promotion terms and conditions.
  • You can withdraw from the agreement. You have 14 days following the receipt of the goods to withdraw. If the seller did not inform you about it, this period is extended to 12 months. Within 14 days after sending a statement of withdrawal from the agreement, you must send the product back at your own expense. You should not use it then - if you damage it or destroy the original packaging, the company may charge you for the value reduction.
  • You can submit a complaint on a defective product. If the equipment breaks down or gets damaged (of course not by your fault), you can ask the seller to repair or replace the goods, reduce the price, and when the defect is significant - to get a refund. You have 2 years since the date of purchase for the complaint.
  • Where to look for help? In case of doubts or problems, call the consumer helpline: 801 440 220 or 22 290 89 16, send an email to:[SCODE]cG9yYWR5QGRsYWtvbnN1bWVudG93LnBs[ECODE], contact the consumer ombudsman or the Trade Inspection.

Additional information for the media:

UOKiK Press Office 
Pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warsaw
Phone: 695 902 088
Email: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]
Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL


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