Helsinki, 3 March, 2006
The Finnish Consumer Agency will draw attention to different types of cross-border scams, such as miracle products and get-rich-quick schemes, and ways to protect consumers against them. According to the information in the eConsumer.gov databank, where consumers who think they have been swindled on the Internet can file complaints, scams most often originate from the USA, Britain, Nigeria, and Canada. The most common problem is that the customer does not receive a product or service that has been ordered and paid for.
"International scams are part of global financial crime. Consequently authorities in Finland, for example, cannot fight them alone. We need close international cooperation and fast and effective means to intervene in scams. The same principle was noted in the OECD Guidelines for Protecting Consumers from Fraudulent and Deceptive Commercial Practices Across Borders," says Ms Anja Peltonen, the Director of the Consumer Law Division at the Finnish Consumer Agency.
Authorities in different countries have different means to prevent and deal with scams. In the United States, for instance, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can freeze and confiscate the assets of a company suspected of criminal activity and return money to consumers who have been the victims of a scam. Consumer authorities in Finland do not have this power.
The Consumer Ombudsman has participated in the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), which fights cross-border scams and includes over 30 countries.
"Through ICPEN the members of the network are quickly informed of new fraudulent practices and can exchange experience on the application of legislation and different working methods," Ms Peltonen points out.
One of ICPEN's successes involved AbTronic abdominal muscle stimulation devices, which were marketed around the world with empty promises. In the United States and Australia courts required the marketers to pay settlements, and in Sweden and Finland shopping channels took infomercials off the air after the Consumer Ombudsmen intervened. The American pyramid marketing company Skybiz.com, which also milked thousands of Finns, was ordered by a court to pay money back to consumers. Each year ICPEN's members arrange an international Sweep Day during which they work together to uncover unfair trade practices on the Internet.
In February the Consumer Agency will publish four press releases describing international scams and telling how consumers can protect themselves against them. Similar campaigns are under way in the other countries in the ICPEN network.
For more information on ICPEN and deceptive or fraudulent marketing, visit www.icpen.org, www.econsumer.gov, and Finnish Consumer Agency www.kuluttajavirasto.fi.
Director Anja Peltonen
tel. +358 9 7726 7804