Misleading Advertisements concern Consumer Council

12/10/2009 10:55

CHRISTMAS season is here and many consumers are looking for cheap deals. The Consumer Council, however, is gravely concerned with misleading advertisements that is rife in the mass media during this festive season.

According to Fair Trading Decree 1992, misleading advertisement is where a business publishes advertisement containing a false or misleading statement of fact. Advertisers exploit consumers’ tendency to hunt for bargains or specials by misleading them with advertisements containing cheap prices without full disclosure of the terms and conditions or vital information. Businesses also use the tricky tactics of bait advertising to lure customers into their shops when in fact they may not have the advertised product or service readily available or in stock. It however, is a cunning way to get consumers to come to them and buy alternative products that consumers may not need at all.

Those businesses who engage in such activities are committing an offence and must be reported to the regulator, Department of Fair Trading & Consumer Affairs. In our daily newspaper (dated 31/10/09), a consumer is complaining that despite the prices are written in bold, the advert fails to disclose the extra costs associated in the process of purchasing the product (such as freight and documentation cost). Fair Trading laws states that if a business has made representation of a product or service by stating the cash price, then that business should not change or deter from the advertised price (section 61 of the Decree).

Consumers are advised to be smart and vigilant when reading or coming across such misleading advertisements. The Council strongly advises consumers not to assume that certain purchase will give them benefit they seek because often such advertisements come with conditions to entice them into believing that there is a bargain to be made. Many consumers end up committing themselves without realising the implications of their commitment in the long run – hire purchase deals often fall in this category.  Therefore, each terms and conditions must be read with open mind and if in doubt seek clarification from the Council.

The Consumer Council can only caution shoppers in this busy festive season that they must be responsible when shopping. For example, make a shopping list; prioritise needs from wants, according to your budget; and check sales thoroughly by reading the fine prints which states the conditions before purchasing an item. This would ensure that consumers are not manipulated by dubious merchants or traders who incorrectly advertise and manipulate the excitement of the season to gain unscrupulously.

Advertisers are also warned that they should be more upfront and honest with consumers and state clearly either the conditions or at least state that prices will differ or vary according to conditions. Traders also have a duty to uphold the laws of the land and not to exploit poor consumers for profits. The Council will be conducting its regular market surveillance to ensure that consumers are not cheated.