Consumer Protection market intelligence
Ever thought about what happens to all the information collected by Consumer Protection when Western Australians enquire about an issue or lodge a complaint about a trader? Aside from the data being used to solve disputes and as part of investigations, it is also looked at by a team called the Market Intelligence and Planning Unit.
Analysis of the data can identify emerging trends and provide Consumer Protection with an opportunity to provide consumers with preventative advice.
Consumer Protection will list a new trend on this webpage, along with some recommendations in relation to the issue. The most recent issue will be listed below but you can look up previous issues under the Trend Archive.
As the weather in Perth gets colder more people move indoors to keep fit, so it’s timely to talk about rights and responsibilities when it comes to gym memberships.
So far this year Consumer Protection has received 172 enquiries and 19 formal complaints in relation to gym memberships. In 2012 there were 290 enquiries in total and 46 formal complaints. Interestingly the issues we see don’t tend to focus on the quality of services, so that is a good thing but they do include:
- cooling off periods;
- membership cancellation/cancellation fees;
- unfair contract terms; and
- taking unauthorised payments.
There are existing protections for consumers looking to join a gym. In WA we have the Fitness Industry Code of Practice which has been in place since 2005 and was renewed in 2010.
Under the code:
- there’s a 48 hour cooling off period for all new fitness centre memberships;
- membership agreements must be in writing and make clear ALL fees;
- gyms cannot take more than 12 months prepayment; and
- there must be standard complaints procedures in place.
There are some general recommendations from Consumer Protection for anybody looking to join a gym. Firstly shop around and find a facility that has exactly what you are looking for such as the right equipment, group exercise classes etc.
Be wary of gyms offering special offers, promotions or verbal promises. Often these promises have strict terms and conditions hidden in the fine print, so always read your contract carefully at home before signing up to anything. As a general rule you should never allow yourself to be pressured into signing up to any form of deal on the spot without thinking it over and doing your homework.
Look for a gym that is a member of Fitness Australia, which operates under the Fitness Industry Code of Practice. When you find a suitable fitness centre at a competitive price and decide you want to sign up, think about a casual membership until you are satisfied you want to commit to a longer term. Remember gyms in WA cannot demand more than 12 months fees in advance.
You should be mindful that while gym contracts must allow the consumer to cancel the membership in writing within a specified period, there may be some costs such as administration fees or fitness assessment service fees that are often non-refundable, even if the membership is cancelled during the cooling-off period. These should be noted in the contract.
Don’t forget that if a membership expires, the direct debits do not automatically stop. There are usually conditions attached to gym contracts, requiring 30 days written notice that you want the direct debits to stop.
Gyms that operate under the code of practice can use Fitness Australia to help resolve disputes with consumers and they are also more likely to agree to membership cancellations on compassionate grounds, such as long-term illness.
If you have a dispute with a gym and it is not a member of Fitness Australia, call Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In May 2012 the WA Police Major Fraud Squad began ‘Operation Sunbird’ to investigate whether funds transferred from Western Australia to West Africa were as a result of ‘request for money’ scams/frauds. The sophisticated scheme involves organised criminals connecting with victims online and extensively grooming them in what appears to be a personal relationship.
Police figures compiled between May 2012 and January 2013 have shown more than $11million has been sent to scammers in recent times (some transactions date back to 2011 even though they were discovered in the last few months). There are individual losses of up to $300,000.
In addition to these shocking statistics there are recorded losses from self-reporting romance fraud victims who contacted WA ScamNet – that adds up to about $900,000 in a year.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg though – money going to places like Malaysia, the UK, Canada and the US hasn’t been examined yet.
Due to the scale of the problem, what started as a police operation has matured into a long term partnership and collaboration between the Major Fraud Squad and Consumer Protection and has been appropriately renamed ‘Project Sunbird’.
Sunbird is about intervention. Victims who repeatedly send large amounts of money to places like Ghana, Nigeria or Sierra Leone are notified that they are caught up in a fraud. They inevitably find it extremely difficult to accept that the person they have been conversing with, over email and phone for months or sometimes even years, is a con artist. It is useful for them to hear it from two Government agencies and to access support offered by both. Further personal support services for victims are also being sourced.
If you or someone you know has begun a relationship with a person overseas after meeting on an internet dating or social networking website, you have not met them face to face and that person requests money, it will likely be a fraud. Don’t be fooled by claims that the cash is needed to help out in an emergency situation, to fund an investment opportunity or to pay for an airfare to come to WA. Also be aware that the person running the fraud may not represent themselves as being West African; they may pretend to be Australian, English, American or some other nationality.
WA ScamNet’s top tips to avoid relationship fraud:
- Do not respond to out-of-the-blue social media messages from strangers, such as a friend request on Facebook.
- Be on your guard if someone you meet on an online dating site asks you to take the conversation over to email or instant messaging.
- Be wary of overseas-based singles especially if they confess their love for you after a short amount of time or want to know about your financial status.
- Remember that just because someone shares personal photos does not mean the pictures are of them – scammers often steal other people’s photos.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking that talking to somebody on the phone means you know them and that they are who they say there are.
- Be concerned if a person refuses to chat real-time via a webcam and be mindful that even Skype is not scammer proof – watch out for pre-recorded videos.
- Alarm bells should ring if someone you do not know personally (have met face-to-face) requests money, particularly by a wire transfer service such as Western Union or even direct bank transfers, which could be going to an account set up with a stolen identity.
- Anyone who has lost money in a relationship fraud should be very wary of secondary scam attempts e.g. offers of scam compensation from law enforcement or government agencies.