Unsolicited telephone sales
We sometimes receive an unexpected phone call whereby a skilled salesperson tries to sell us a specific good or service.
When we are not prepared for such calls, we may end up committing ourselves to purchasing something we may not need, therefore wasting money on unnecessary goods/services.
A fairly common complaint regarding telephone sales is that consumers do not always get what the salesperson offers on the phone. This is especially the case when it comes to special offers on telecommunication services.
Consumers are very often given the impression that they will be offered something for free. What they are not clearly told is that the free gift has strings attached to it, usually a binding contract for a specific time.
To avoid problems with goods and services bought over the phone, it is important that we take a number of precautions: being aware of our legal rights and how the law protects us in case of problems.
When a salesperson calls to sell something, it is important that we take note of the name of the person and the company they are representing. We should also take note of the details of the products andservices for sale and we should never commit to buying something before we have the possibility to physically see it.
Should we decide to purchase goods over the phone, we must know we have the same rights as with goods bought in a shop. This basically means that the goods must be as described, as agreed in the contract of sale and fit for a specific purpose.
If the goods are not as promised or not as agreed to during the sale, the seller must either fix the problem or give us a full refund. In such cases, the trader must also fork out the cost returning the goods.
We also have additional rights, the most important being the cooling-off period, which gives us the right to cancel the sale within 15 days from the day we receive the goods ordered.
In case of services, the cooling-off period applies from the conclusion of the contract. However, if we agree to start the service before the expiry of the 15 days, our cancellation rights terminate on the day we start using the service.
The cooling-off period may be extended to three months: if the trader does not provide us with contact details; the price of the product; or if we are not informed about our cancellation rights. If we decide to cancel the sale and have already paid for the goods, we should be reimbursed in full. We may only be obliged to cover the cost of returning the unwanted goods back to the seller.
Another requirement of the distance selling regulations is that the seller must clearly identify the business and purpose of the call from the beginning of the conversation.
In other words, if the caller wishes to sell something, they must clearly say so from the start. If this is not done, the contract concluded during the course of a telephone communication may become unenforceable. In case of dispute, it is the trader who must prove they had informed the consumer about their identity and the commercial purpose of the call.
More information should be given to us when we decide to conclude a sale: name and address of the seller; price of the goods, including taxes and delivery charges; and an accurate description of the goods/service.
As to the delivery of goods, this should either take place within the period agreed with the seller or within 30 days of placing the order.
If any of these rights are breached, during or after a telephone sale, consumers have a legal right for redress. We should first try to solve the problem directly with the company or the salesperson we dealt with.
If we do not succeed, thenour next step is to file a complaint with the Office for Consumer Affairs within the MaltaCompetition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
Ms Vella is senior information officer, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.