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Brussels, 27 February 2007

Questions and answers: Consumer Protection Cooperation Network

How will the new enforcement network work?

The CPC gives wide ranging powers to enforcement bodies in the EU and will enable them to better work together to take coordinated action against traders acting illegally. Systems have been put in place that will allow each of these authorities to call on other members of the network for help in investigations to stop rogue traders. Where the enforcement authorities have a reasonable suspicion of a cross-border infringement or breach, they now have the right: to access relevant documentation and information related to the infringement; to carry out on-site inspections; to request the seller or supplier to cease the infringement; and to require losing defendants to make payments into the public purse or to a designated beneficiary if they fail to comply with the decision. Enforcement bodies will also have the power to take court action if necessary.

What are the types of scams the network will aim to tackle?

  • Clairvoyant mailings - Consumers receive a letter from so called psychic or clairvoyant promising for instance to make predictions that will change the course of life for ever. Other times the letters warn recipients about some imminent danger that a deceased relative of the recipient has passed on to the clairvoyant, who of course offers help. The letters may also be more aggressive and try to scare the recipient by telling him that something terrible is going to happen to him/her and their family. Again help is offered in the form of a lucky talisman crystal, amulet or set of numbers. All these services/goods are offered for a small fee. The mailings may be sent in their thousands, but are personalised to make it look as the recipient had been specifically chosen.
  • Miracle health and slimming cure scams - Consumers receive a mailing or email promising a health 'miracle'. These pills, lotions, creams and other products will supposedly cure baldness, arthritis, rheumatism, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cancer, obesity, impotency and other ailments. These medically ineffective or dangerous products are often sold by professional fraudsters with no medical training.
  • Foreign money offers - Millions of European consumers receive emails and letters offering them a huge sum of money in return for their help to get money out of a foreign country. Sometimes the scammers ask for your bank details, which they then use to empty your bank account. Or they will ask for an advance fee – often thousands of euros – to cover some unforeseen problem. One victim from the UK who engaged in correspondence with such fraudsters even travelled to South Africa to 'complete the deal', but was kidnapped upon arrival. His kidnappers demanded a €30,000 ransom from his wife, but the police tracked them down and the victim was released.

What other scenarios could the network deal with?

The legislation that set up the network - the new EU Cross Border Co-operation Regulation - covers breaches of 16 EU legal acts including issues such as misleading advertising, package holidays, timeshares and distance selling. The network could crack down on abuses such as:

  • Timeshare problems - If timeshare operators aggressively pressurise holidaymakers from other countries to sign contracts while abroad. These operators may try to ignore consumer rights under the EU Timeshare Directive such as the 10-day cooling-off period during which consumers can cancel the contract, or failing to give sufficient information about charges and costs.
  • Airline rights - According to European law, passengers have the right to be compensated if their flight is delayed more than two hours or cancelled. However, flight carriers regularly overbook flights and only inform passengers that they can not travel at the airport. In other cases flights are delayed due to organisational or technical problems. For all these circumstances the air carriers are fully responsible and financially liable. Under the CPC regulation, national authorities may request help from their counterparts in other countries to investigate the case. If the questioned practice is proved to be a general one for the given entity the authorities are entitled to request to change it and/or impose fines on the company to avoid the repetition.

Has the network had any successes yet?

Under the newly enforced Regulation, German and Dutch authorities have already succeeded in resolving a long-running infringement case involving a German company.

The Dutch Consumer Authority had long ago complained that the website of a German company selling airline tickets did not comply with EU rules on distance selling. The Dutch authority had asked the company to remove the Dutch-language part of its website due to insufficient information on costs and company contact details on the site. The company in question did not respond. However, this year, as a result of the new rules, the Dutch authority was able to ask for help from their German counterpart, and the Dutch part of the website was removed within days.

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