Consumer Protection Resources
Particularly in these hard times, it is even more important than ever that consumers know their rights and are protected from aggressive or even illegal business practices. There are a number of resources that suggest they would be of assistance. Here are some of them:
- Federal Trade Commission – Protecting America’s Consumers
- Consumer Guides and Protection – Official information and services from the U.S. government
- Canadaâ€™s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)
- Consumer Protection Branch, Ontario
- Information portal for the Consumers’ Association of Canada – Federal and Provincial offices, departments or ministries for consumer protection.
The list in the last portal has one resource where the link to the website is missing, somewhat surprisingly, at the time we write this. That is the reference to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of British Columbia. The website does exist and there you can learn that
The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority (BPCPA) is a not-for-profit corporation that delivers consumer protection services throughout British Columbia. BC’s consumer protection laws provide the framework to help the BPCPA protect consumers and encourage a fair marketplace in the province.
There is even a Consumer Corner and in the past, there have been some useful tips:
- June 2008: Cars on Consignment: Making an informed decision
- March 2008: March is Fraud Prevention Month: Advance Fee Loans
- January 2008: Making New Year’s Resolutions Work for You: Tips for consumers about joining a fitness club or program
- November 2007: Resting in Peace: Tips for consumers around cremation, interment and funeral services
- September 2007: Hold the Phone: Tips for consumers around telemarketing
- April 2007: Have Fund, Will Travel – Tips for consumers when buying travel services
- March 26, 2007: Fraud Prevention Month: Don’t buy into home renovation scams
- March 19, 2007: Fraud Prevention Month:Make the right call around phone fraud
- March 12, 2007: Fraud Prevention Month: Don’t buy trouble from door to door sales
- March 5, 2007: Fraud Prevention Month: Don’t fall for deceptive mailouts or lottery scams
- February 2007: Know your rights and responsibilities around debt collection
- January 2007: Be cautious with time shares in Mexico
The interesting aspect of the above resources, almost without exception, is that they usually have two objectives.
- To set out good business practices, which in some cases may have associated legislation.
- To provide consumers with advice on how to take care of themselves. In some cases, there is also a Complaints process.
What is rarely provided is a list of companies whose practices are questionable, or even the subject of complaints. This seems to be a field left to private individuals. However via the Internet and through the social media such as Twitter such information is becoming more available.
Freedom of Information
Thankfully there is increasing openness in society and governments and their agencies must respond, even if it takes legislation to enforce this. For example, Larry Pynn in the Vancouver Sun through freedom-of-information legislation learned that Collection agencies, retail outlets and travel agents easily led the top-10 list of consumer complaints received last year by the Business Practices & Consumer Protection Authority of B.C.
Collection agencies were the source of 2,591 phone and mail complaints/inquiries, followed by retail sales at 1,861, and travel agents at 1,008 (136 of whom involved unlicensed agents).
Other sectors on the dubious top-10 list: automotive sales, 551; funeral service, 447; telecommunications, 436; credit/financing 440; credit reporting, 390; contractors, 371; and telemarketing, 367.
You should consult the article for names if you are interested. The BPCPA defends this lack of communication and prefers to work directly with companies to ensure better behavior. However in this age of Twitter, many ways of communicating what is known are having to be rethought and this area of consumer protection may well be one of them. Nothing can ensure better business consumer practices faster than by the perpetrators knowing that everyone is watching.
Perhaps the new watchword should be Seller Beware rather than Buyer Beware. It is not something that is difficult to accept since satisfied consumers are the key to better sales growth.