Sunday October 25th 2020

Unsolicited marketing – know your rights

South African journalist Erica Southey plays consumer watchdog  and investigates why direct marketers get under her skin – and how to fight the itch.

Settled in for the evening armed with a mug of Camomile tea, revelling in the aftermath of a luxurious massage – my mobile breaks the tranquil moment.

Caller (rather chirpy and unknown): “Hello, how are you?”

I rummage through memory.com to try and place the caller. Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. Not helping is my growing irritation at having a rare “me” evening intruded upon. However, good manners prevail and I respond: “Hello, I’m fine, thank you and you?”  A small pause and there it goes ………….. AGAIN!

“Ms Southey, my name is so and so.  I’m calling from (take your pick or insert your ‘stalker’) Mobile with a fantastic offer ……” This is not the first time this particular entity calls – and I requested not to be contacted by any of them. One hardly gets a word in when bombarded with personal questions about how much money one spends on one’s current bill. Not volunteering details the caller got pushy and that’s where I cut her short.

I asked if the caller knew that she was contacting me illegally – to which there was a sudden silence followed by, “but you’re getting a wonderful phone for free.”  I said that at the end of the day, I would be paying for it regardless and that this would simply be yet another contract in addition to the existing one I already have. What do I need that for?

Proving my point, I continued that I was caught by CellC and now suffer the consequences of having to pay the phone fee for the next two years, despite trying to cancel the contract. The idea was to switch service providers in order to save on my monthly phone bill. Wrong! Eventually “all the money saved” was quickly eaten up by calls regarding poor service, connection problems, coverage and most of all finding out they couldn’t “port” my Vodacom number to CellC due to me being an Autopage Cellular client. Autopage doesn’t fall in the porting category. Though assured that I can forward my Vodacom number to my new CellC number (porting) at no charge, a hefty bill soon showed otherwise. Paying Vodacom and CellC for connecting one call – daylight robbery!

Does this scenario sound familiar?  If I wanted another mobile I’d have one already.

I wondered how these marketers got my phone number.

Read the small print when doing a transaction. I became aware of it when I bought my car – thanks to a good sales consultant.  On documents of sale, there is a box that you must tick if you do not want to be contacted by marketers affiliated to whoever you are buying from.

With the latest schemes, scams and stories of stolen identity etc. how much easier for legitimate businesses to get hold of your contact information.

Where does all of this leave the consumer who gets bombarded with unwanted calls from pesky marketers?

I’m a South African journalist, so I investigate close to home. However, no matter where in the world we are, our rights must be protected, right? South Africa implemented the Consumer Protection Act, No. 68 of 2008 that was signed by the President in 2009.  This Act is in the process of final implementation meaning that some clauses are already applicable, but others for administrative reasons are given time till March 2011 when the Act comes into full effect.

I investigated further to see what the South African Consumer’s rights are. Going through the laymen’s form of the act, I saw what marketers get away with:

The right to privacy stipulates that a consumer can protect their privacy and confidentiality and also refuse any form of contact – be it SMS, telephone or spamming.  Service/goods providers may not contact potential clients unless they are given permission to do so. If the consumer opted out via the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa’s (DMA) ‘Don’t Contact Me Database’; any company/individual/entity contacting them is acting illegally. Opting out can be done at: http://www.dmasa.org/dmasa/dma_optout.php

Direct Marketers are required to check this database before contacting any potential customers.

With so many options, consumers have a right to choose with whom they want to do business. Sometimes one gets caught in the ‘heat of the moment’ buy and realises it wasn’t such a good one after all. Damage done? Good news – suppliers are required to include a ‘cooling-off period’ in any transaction which should be at least a five (business days) period. A buyer can cancel the goods within this time period without giving any reason or incurring any penalties.  If you paid up front, the supplier must return payment within 15 business days of cancellation.

Service providers may not charge for issuing of a quote. The buyer must be allowed time to inspect the goods. If it doesn’t resemble the offer or sample given, then the buyer can reject the goods without paying. Unsolicited goods can be returned with the risk and return charges at the expense of the marketer.

The buyer has the right to ask any delivery person for identification before allowing them on their premises or into their home. Think safety! The buyer has the right to ask potential representatives for proof of identification.  Representatives/installers must have a name badge or similar identification that is displayed visibly. This can be the difference between you and a life-changing horror.

Have you been bullied, even physically threatened or had elderly parents or disabled relatives fall prey to some ruthless marketers? The Act makes reference to “Unconscionable Conduct”.

What does this mean? “Suppliers may not use physical force against consumers, coercion, undue influence, pressure, duress, harassment, unfair tactics or any other similar conduct” when selling and supplying goods.

Another practice that is rearing its ugly head of late is the use of physical force or threats when collecting payments or recovering goods from consumers. Inured parties can take them to court.

The recession is no excuse for taking advantage of: individuals with physical disability, who have no or poor literacy, are ignorant or are unable to understand the language of an agreement or anything similar.

These are only a few of the key points that affect and protect the consumer when buying products.

Prices are soaring and salaries don’t always match these price hikes. Direct marketers often come with wonderful offers that leave an even bigger hole in the already cash-strapped consumer’s pocket.

Know your rights, familiarise yourself with the relevant act in your own country and stop unsolicited marketers from tarnishing the image of those businesses that still operate according to a solid code of ethics based on integrity and honesty.

After all, the power is in the hands of an informed consumer who knows her rights and most of all – what she wants.

Copyright Erica Southey, 2010

4 Comments for “Unsolicited marketing – know your rights”

  • Lizette says:

    Brilliant article!! It is about time that we as consumer make ourselves be heard. Thanks to communication networks and social media being heard is so much easier.

  • Craig says:

    The opt-out database is only relevant for companies registered with the DMA.

  • Erica says:

    Hi Craig, thanks for your comment. From my understanding reading as per the DMA’s website “The Opt Out Register (go to http://www.facilities.co.za/dcm) was launched on 19 March 2007 and to date around 25 000 consumers have registered online to have their details removed from mailing lists used by marketers to promote goods and services. The Don’t Contact Me list – previously known as the Mail Preference Service (MPS), serves the sole purpose of removing your name and address from prospect mailing lists. According to proposed law, any company embarking on a direct marketing campaign will be required to run their list against the Opt Out register and ensure that any names on the DMA register are deleted off their database. Although you will see a reduction in the unsolicited direct mail you receive, not all commercial mail will stop. For example you may continue to receive mail from companies with which you already do business with for example a banking institution – where you have provided consent for them to market to you. In addition, you may continue to receive mail addressed to the resident/occupant since the mail is not personalized. To register, click on the Do not contact icon and then complete the necessary fields. Of vital importance is the submission of your ID number to ensure that all your details are removed.” this also applies to individuals.
    Best regards,
    Erica

  • Tamsyn says:

    Hi there,
    I have been receiving unsolicited mail from companies I have not down business with at all. I assume I didn’t read some fine print somewhere and someone is gone and sold my info. I tried to find the source of the problem by requesting from the spammers where they got my details from. No one is very forthcoming, despite my legal right to this info and this lack of transparency worries me as i worry my details were obtained illegaly.
    I would like to complain or atleast report these people but cannot find details anywhere to report to. Can you help?


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