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The informed consumer is the key link in the chain of good business

10 August 2011 / 18:08:35  GRReporter
4824 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

How many times have you come across commercials ensuring you that the promoted product will give you great health, eternal youth and beauty, burn the unnecessary fats forever or do all the housework for a few minutes? Lately, many Greek TV channels have been showing a commercial of a device for ozonation of water and its presenter is promising to consumers that if they are drinking it and washing fruits, vegetables and meat products in it they will escape all diseases and will enjoy excellent physical condition.

A few days ago, however, the National Organization for Medicines banned these commercials, arguing that the specific allegations are part of definitions of medicines, and the product is not certified as such. Therefore, its effects on the human body are not clear.

Supervisory authorities took actions after the signal given by the consumer organization Centre for Consumer Protection, which protects their rights since 1982. GRReporter contacted the President of the organization Nikolaos Tsemberlidis. He stated that most consumer complaints are connected with getting into huge debts and noted that the well-informed consumer helps correct the market functions.

What was the reason to ban the commercial for appliances for ozonated water?

This happens with any commercial, which does not contain certified claims but exaggerations. Such was the commercial of the plates for mobile phones that are stuck on them to stop the radiation. We have experts in almost all areas and when we receive a complaint, we immediately begin to examine each case. We talked to two professors about the allegations in the commercial. We knew immediately that these devices cause serious problems, because drinking water often contains various metal components. Even carcinogenic units could form between them. Then we found out that the manufacturers of these devices do not have certificates. Therefore, we informed the General Secretariat for consumers. Then, we began a correspondence with the National Organization for Medications on whether the device could affect human health in this way. The commercial states that ozone is almost a panacea for any health problem. The Organization responded that the manufacturers are not certified and therefore they are not entitled to make such claims.

After receiving the information, we addressed the consumers, many of whom had turned to us with questions about those specific devices. Many people doubted that the devices for the separation of ozone have all these properties. Similar was the case with a device that cost between 35 and 50 euro, which when plugged saves the consumers 30-40 per cent of the electricity they use. We even joked that if we have invented such a device in Greece why not give it to the rest of the Europeans. We want to reduce the energy consumption by 20 per cent by 2020, aren’t we? And here we save 30 per cent against only 35-50 euro. In this case, we are talking about 100 per cent fraud. There was no saving, and of course, the sale was terminated immediately.

We had to act in the same way in the case of devices for ozonation of water. We found that despite the ban, the commercial is still running. The General Secretariat for Consumer Affairs should now intervene and impose fines on those who advertise such products. If this does not happen in a certain period, we will make complaints against specific advertising companies.

To what extent do consumer complaints determine your research?

We rely mostly on them. It is impossible to track everything that happens in the market. Consumer complaints do not seek only to resolve a dispute between a consumer and a company or give them any explanations. We collect the complaints and make statistics in order to determine in which market sectors there are the most problems. Then we look for the reason that causes the problem. We received 3000 complaints in the first quarter of this year. Foremost among them are the huge debts of households to the banks. Years ago, weight loss centres and gyms were in one of the first places. We found that we had so many complaints because there was not a legal framework for consumer protection. Our actions resulted in the imposition of a deontological code and a law regulating the operation of these centres was voted three years ago. From that moment on, those specific complaints fell from the first to the eighth place in our list. Other possible reasons include the behaviour of firms and consumer unawareness.

Have you registered any increase in the number of complaints after the economic crisis?

This is true for some industries. We see that consumers have started to care more about their rights, because their financial capacity decreased. The bad thing in Greece, however, is that the consumer reaction is sporadic; it is not conscious and constant.

For example, we witnessed in the period 2004 - 2005 how the households were obtaining loans from banks on a mass scale. Bad loans were increasing, and the banks were lending irresponsibly. We had complaints about lending to people without any income, such as students. Banks were issuing credit cards, sending them to the homes of the consumers without having their consent. And all this in order to increase their financial capacity.

We filed complaints, based on the German experience with hugely indebted households and since 2005 have made efforts to adopt a law on consumers’ settlement. Ultimately, it was voted two years ago. This is the positive outcome in this story.

Tags: SocietyConsumersMisleading commercialsOrganizations for consumer protectionComplaints
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