Misleading Advertising Tops Lists Of Complaints To FTC


Approximately 70 per cent of complaints made against merchants to the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) relate to misleading advertising.
This was stated by Complaints Officer at the FTC, Lyndel McDonald in an interview with JIS News. “Misleading advertising is pretty wide-scale, consumers have been misled with respect to prices, with respect to features and capabilities of various items [and] with respect to warranties and guarantees that is purported by merchants,” Mr. McDonald said.
In explaining the concept of misleading advertising, Legal Officer at the FTC, Wendy Duncan said this occurred when an enterprise or individual in the course of business set out false claims, “which are likely to deceive the consumer or which actually deceive the consumer”.
Instances of this include double ticketing, where a supplier places two different prices on an item and in this case, she said the consumer should get the item at the lower of the two prices.
Another example is sale above the advertised price where merchants advertise goods at a certain price in order to get consumers in their store in the hope that once they are there, they’ll just pay the higher price instead of going elsewhere.
A most common practise of misleading advertising, Mr. McDonald said was for merchants to advertise a good at bargain price, though they did not have the product in a reasonable quantity. They then try to persuade consumers to buy a different item, which was usually at a higher price. Mr. McDonald said again, the aim of this practise was to attract buyers to the store by using the bargain price as bait, with the hope of selling them another item at a higher price.
The Complaint Officer also noted that the Commission had received several complaints of instances where products were labelled with a particular price, but the same goods were given a different price in the cashier’s machine.
Mr. McDonald stated that all these offences were in breach of the Fair Competition Act. In assessing cases however, he said that the FTC would exercise discretion in determining the intent of the merchants’ actions, which sometimes proved to be negligent rather than malicious.
“Once a complaint comes in [and] it is properly supported, we contact the other party and they are allowed to respond, and if we figure that there isn’t a matter that amounts to a breach under the Act, then we don’t proceed,” he said.
He added that it could be a misunderstanding and a merchant might decide to give a refund or resolve the issue by some other means.
Mr. McDonald is advising consumers to read the advertisements carefully before rushing to the stores to make purchases. “Many times you find that the large print gives a message which, on the face of it, is too good to be true and all of that is almost made void by the fine print and the disclaimers,” he said.
He said some of these disclaimers include statements such as: prices subject to change without notice; available while stock lasts; items displayed may vary in colour and style; conditions apply and prices start as low as.”. According to him, there had been instances of merchants advertising sale starting as low as $100.00, when in fact, only a few items might go for $100.00 and all the other items might be way above this price and the $100.00 item might not be in all the branches.
The Complaints Officer also advised consumers to inspect goods properly for defects before leaving the store and added that merchants, on their part needed to display their refund policy. He warned that if persons were buying electrical products and motor vehicles, then they should get as much information as possible before making a purchase.

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