Consumer Warnings and Information Useful and Handy Information

Just Ask – Consumer Warnings and Information

With Tom Chapman Senior Regional Officer Consumer Protection – Kimberley Region

19th April 2019

Under the influence

As more brands turn to social media influencers to promote their product or service, it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses and buyers to understand how the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) applies to sponsored content.

Influencers don’t have to disclose any commercial arrangement regarding the products and services they promote and are free to express their opinions, but companies that have an arrangement with an influencer (either directly or via a third party) can be found liable for the claims that the influencer makes about their product or service.

If those claims are found to be false or misleading, it could leave the trader, not the influencer, liable to prosecution under the ACL.

An ‘arrangement’ doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a formal contract or even involve money changing hands. A company providing free products to an influencer could be viewed as an ‘arrangement’ and this can create a potential minefield for businesses.

Companies engaging in this type of promotion should carefully monitor what the influencer is doing or saying to ensure they are not creating a false impression or being deceptive.

Consumer protection agencies can ask traders to substantiate any claims being made about a product or service, including those made by a third party contracted by the company. If a breach of the law is identified, penalties may apply.

Consumers who feel they have been misled by social media posts or by statements made by influencers can lodge a complaint as they would for any form of advertising or promotion, and if complaints are found to be valid, traders may have to offer refunds.

An exaggeration about the qualities of a product or service based on subjective opinions may be allowable depending on the circumstances. The line is crossed when the claim being made is a statement of a fact that is false and deceives the consumer.

Traders can be held responsible for public comments made by others on their social media pages which are false or likely to mislead or deceive consumers.

It may not be good enough to just correct the misleading comments by replying, as the response may not be sufficient to override the false impression created by the original comments. It may be safer to simply remove the comments.

Businesses, particularly those with a large following on social media, should ensure their pages are monitored not only during office hours but after hours as well, so any dubious content is addressed as quickly as possible.

Traders should establish clear ‘house rules’ on their social media pages, and block users who breach them, and monitor their pages to ensure any false or misleading public posts are removed as soon as quickly as possible.

For more information, call us on 1300 304 054, email your query to consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or visit our website at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au.


27th March 2019

Buying a used car? Do your checks before you write one

Buying a second-hand car can be a smart way to save money, but it’s important to be aware of the hidden risks that can come with used vehicles.

Most people assume a vehicle’s odometer is a reliable measure of how far it has travelled, but this may not always be the case. Misrepresenting the number of kilometres a vehicle has travelled to attract a higher price is a calculated deception and a serious breach of consumer law.

There are now many methods to establish a vehicle’s true odometer reading, so those who engage in this type of sham will quickly be caught out.

In the past year, in one of the worst cases of odometer tampering in Western Australia, a Maddington motor vehicle dealer and repairer was fined $30,000 and banned for two years from holding a dealer’s licence or repair business licence, or managing a company that holds either licence, after he was found guilty of selling four vehicles with wound-back odometers.

Before buying a used car, consider undertaking checks to ensure you are getting what you paid for.

Consider having the vehicle inspected by a professional. They may be able to uncover inconsistencies that indicate odometer tampering. For example, if the interior is very worn, but the mileage is low.

Check the car’s log book history for records of odometer readings to ensure they are correct and consistent. You can also contact the dealer/repairer and ask them to check their records.

A government Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check can tell you whether a car has been stolen, has money owing on it or has ever been declared a repairable write-off, but it doesn’t include an odometer reading check.

Never deal with people known to be unlicensed motor vehicle dealers. You can check whether a car dealer is licensed by doing a search on the Consumer Protection website: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/cp/licencesearch. Unlicensed car dealers can be reported by emailing consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

Motor vehicle buyers who believe they have been misled about a purchase can also lodge a complaint on the Consumer Protection website.

Tom Chapman
Senior Regional Officer, Kimberley


7th March 2019

Avoid house sitter horror

You’re planning a dream trip overseas or a quick trip down to Perth to visit family, but you need someone to look after the pets and water the plants.

If you’re thinking of engaging a house or pet sitter, it’s important to do your homework and understand the costs, the risks and the how-tos of house sitting.

The risks of hiring a dodgy house sitter were all too real for Perth couple, Colin and Fiona, who returned from a five-week holiday to find the woman hired to stay with their dog had robbed them of jewellery and other belongings worth thousands of dollars and that their losses were not covered by insurance because the sitter was in the home with their consent.

To avoid coming home to distressed pets or missing items, do your research. Take some time to find a reliable sitter through a reputable source – it could spare you a lot of post-holiday pain.

Consider using personally recommended or industry recognised people. If you’re looking for a person to pet sit, ask your vet or an animal refuge if they have any recommendations and make sure the person you hire is comfortable with your pet before you leave.

General internet searches for positive or negative reviews can be helpful, but don’t rely solely on online testimonials. Before engaging anyone to house or pet sit, ask for references you can contact.

If you engage an agency, ask to see police checks for their employees. Find out if the business has insurance for their employees and what is and is not covered should something go wrong during the sit.

Your own insurance might cover accidental loss and damage, but insurers may have exclusions for deliberate damage and theft caused by people lawfully on your property, including sitters and their guests. You should contact your insurer and discuss whether your policy can be modified while someone else is living at the premises in case something goes wrong.

Put the agreed details of your arrangement in writing. A written agreement provides a clear understanding of the obligations of both parties.

For added peace of mind while you’re away, ask a trusted family member, friend or a neighbour to drop in occasionally to check on the house.

Traders should know their rights and obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) as well.

The ACL provides that services supplied will be fit for purpose and provided with due care and skill. This applies to the service of the sitter and your administrative services, regardless of whether you operate via a platform such as Airtasker or another sharing economy platform.

For more information call us on 1300 304 054, email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or visit www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au.


21st February 2019

Be aware of risks when attaching items to homes

Homeowners and tenants need to be aware of the risks when attaching items such as hammocks, swings and basketball hoops around the home.

We recently issued a joint warning with our colleagues at Building and Energy about the potential dangers following a young man’s tragic death in Subiaco in December 2018 when a brick pier collapsed on an attached hammock.

It was WA’s second fatality in the past decade involving a hammock attached to a brick pier, prompting us to urge caution about how and where equipment such as hammocks, swings, hanging chairs, shade-sails and basketball hoops are installed.

These kinds of items should only be used if the supporting structure – including brick piers, walls, roofs, ceilings and beams – can handle the weight and loads.

Structures around your home are not necessarily designed to carry additional attachments. Isolated brick piers, in particular, are primarily designed to carry vertical loads and should not be retrofitted with items that may pull or push the pier sideways or off-centre.

For example, a brick pier may be able to support loads coming from the roof or pergola, but may not necessarily handle a sideways force generated by the weight of a person using a hammock.

The structural capacity of any part of a building depends on a number of factors such as the design, workmanship, quality of materials, maintenance and other existing loads.

The Building Code of Australia – which outlines the minimum technical requirements for the design and construction of buildings and related structures – does not necessarily anticipate the installation of additional items that may be attached to a building after its construction.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a building element is strong enough to support the item you are thinking of attaching so before installing or using any item that will be attached around your home, you should consider seeking expert advice from a registered builder, structural engineer, a building surveyor or another qualified professional.

It’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing the items. Some goods, such as basketball rings and backboards, have mandatory standards requiring that instructions are provided about their safe installation and use.

Always make sure you know the requirements for safe installation and whether your property is suitable for these items before you purchase or use them. If you can’t safely install the item, look for alternatives such as a free-standing portable basketball ring instead.

Also be aware of risks inside the home from toppling furniture or blinds and curtain cords, and carry out the relatively simple steps required to secure them such as using anchoring devices.

It’s also important to report any products that are unsafe to us so we can take action.

For more information, call us on 1300 304 054, email your query to consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or visit our website at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au. You can also find information about product safety and recalls at www.productsafety.wa.gov.au.

For Building and Energy related information please call 1300 489 099, email BCinfo@dmirs.wa.gov.au or visit the website via www.dmirs.wa.gov.au.


7th February 2019

Don’t fall for high pressure tactics from travelling tradies

For many people, Wet Season is a time to finally get onto some of those maintenance things around the house, but this is also the time of year when travelling tradespeople start approaching householders and businesses with ‘cheap’ deals on jobs like roof painting and tree lopping.

Travelling salespeople often use high pressure tactics to make their deal and can charge exorbitant rates for sometimes sub-standard work, so we are reminding consumers to be aware of their right to a cooling off period when they receive an uninvited approach from a tradesperson.

We recommend that anyone considering expensive work for projects such as roof painting should shop around for quotes and use reputable local tradespeople.

If a salesperson comes to your home out of the blue or for the purpose of providing a quote but enters into negotiations to supply, then you have rights under the Australian Consumer Law unsolicited consumer agreement provisions. You should get a 10 business day cooling off period to think about it and check prices and, if it’s not what you expected, then you can cancel the contract.

Consumer law also requires services to be carried out with due care and skill, and in a reasonable amount of time. When entering into any trades or services agreement we recommend that you get the cost of the job and timeframe for completion of work in writing.

Also only pay a minimal deposit of about 10 per cent or, for larger jobs, negotiate progress payments as stages of the work are completed. It is illegal for tradespeople to accept deposits of more than 6.5 per cent for building work valued at more than $7,500.

Ask if the business will take a credit card payment. If they do, this could offer a safeguard because of the possibility of getting a chargeback (transaction reversal) if the work is not carried out.

And obtain a record of any payment made and ensure the receipt or invoice includes the details of the business on it.

Key things to do before hiring someone include:

Getting several quotes, including those from personally recommended or industry association recognised tradespeople.

Undertaking a general internet search for positive or negative reviews is also useful, and this includes visiting our website which lists information about named traders and compliance actions.

Verifying claims by asking to see previous work and speaking to past clients. Don’t just rely on photos or written testimonials or a website. Also ask to see any public liability insurance policy they claim to have.

Checking that the business is registered, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has a guide to identifying a genuine business at www.accc.gov.au, and, if it’s a licensed profession such as an electrician, builder or plumber, then carry out a licence search on the Building and Energy website at www.dmirs.wa.gov.au.

For more information or assistance call Consumer Protection on 1300 304 054, send an email to consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or visit www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au.


24th January 2019

Make sure your donations go to legitimate charities

Western Australians are well known for their generosity but donors need to ensure that they are dealing with a licensed organisation to ensure their money reaches the intended recipients.

Always ask for identification from door-to-door charity collectors and, if you do donate to them, get a receipt.

Times for door-to-door collections for a charitable purpose are between 9am and 6pm Monday to Saturday. Generally no collections are allowed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Any organisation or club collecting money or goods from the public for charitable purposes needs to be licensed under the Charitable Collections Act, which is administered by Consumer Protection.

Well-meaning community members trying to raise money for others can end up inadvertently doing the wrong thing because they are unaware of the need to get a licence or to ask an established charity to work under their licence and supervision.

There is no fee required to obtain a licence and applications are reviewed by the Charitable Collections Advisory Committee. This committee consists of five independent members appointed by the Governor of Western Australia, it meets monthly to consider new applications or make recommendations to the Minister about charity licensing matters.

As a condition of holding a licence, the charity has to lodge financial statements to show money is being spent as it should be, and that only reasonable operating costs are deducted.

Making charities accountable in this way also helps to protect them from criticism about funds not being used appropriately.

However, it’s important to be aware that organisations collecting and receiving money from the public for non-charitable purposes do not need a licence. This includes social and sporting clubs, schools or kindergartens, which raise funds for their own use.

Tip for donors:

Haven’t heard of a charity before? Check WA’s licensed charities register at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au before donating.

Ask face-to-face collectors for proof of identity and permission to collect, such as a street collection permit or authorisation letter from a licensed charity.

Make sure you know if it is a one-off or ongoing donation before you sign up, and how you can cancel if needed.

Report unlicensed charity collections to Consumer Protection or complain to the relevant crowd funding website if you think a campaign is a scam.

Tips for collectors:
To run a one-off, short-term fundraiser, approach an existing licensed charity, such as a Rotary Club, to ask to collect under their authority.

For crowd funding campaigns we recommend Everyday Hero, which connects the fundraising campaign to established charities.

Charitable organisations wishing to authorise fundraising activities under their charity licence should download the guidance pack from our website.

Further information is available at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au, by calling 1300 304 054, or by emailing charities@dmirs.wa.gov.au.


10th January 2019

Don’t duck out – make portable pools safe

Many of us have fond memories of splashing around in a portable pool as a child and, as Wet Season cranks up, we’ve launched a campaign to remind parents and carers to make these pools safer.

Portable pools – ranging from small blow-up or plastic paddling kiddie pools to bigger wading pools, inflatable spas or high-sided flexible plastic pools on a frame – are popular as a cheaper alternative to below-ground pools but they are just as dangerous.

On average one child dies from a portable pool-related drowning every year in Australia, while others need hospital treatment, may be left with severe brain injuries and limited life expectancy. For example a toddler who drowned in a portable pool in Noranda in 2015 sadly passed away two years later.

Drowning statistics have prompted Australian Consumer Law and product safety regulators to join forces with the Royal Life Saving Society to spread water safety messages.

We partnered with Royal Life Saving in 2014/15 to run a campaign called ‘Make It Safe’ and now we’ve added the reminder of ‘Don’t Duck Out’ of the responsibilities you take on when you buy a portable pool which may include putting up a safety barrier.

Adults following the Don’t Duck Out, Make It SAFE tips, such as keeping constant watch of kids around portable pools, can reduce the risk and potentially save lives. The SAFE tips are to:

  • Supervise – actively watch children within arm’s reach. Don’t leave older children in charge.

  • Act – learn emergency first aid including CPR. It’s important to start compressions and breaths as soon as possible when a child is pulled from the water and to call triple zero (000) for help. If there are two people, one should make the phone call while the other does CPR.

  • Fence – in WA, and most of Australia, pools with more than 30cm of water in, are legally required to have a compliant safety barrier and could be fined or prosecuted if you don’t. Check with your local Council.

  • Empty and store safely – after keeping watch all day, pour out water and put the pool away where children can’t reach. Never leave it where it can refill with rain or sprinkler water.

As part of the campaign, we’ve been working with major retailers who will also be helping to spread the Don’t Duck Out, Make It SAFE message at the point of sale. Under the Australian Consumer Law, portable pools and their packaging are required to have labels drawing the buyer’s attention to drowning risk, the need for active supervision, proper storage and local fencing laws.

Anyone thinking about purchasing a portable pool should take a few minutes to check out the campaign website at www.productsafety.gov.au/makeitsafe for more information. If you spot a portable pool without a warning label you should report that to Consumer Protection by emailing consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or you can call 1300 304 054.

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