Tibaldo: Consumer rights in the digital age

I BELIEVE that very citizen regardless of age, nationality, creed and social standing should have the same basic rights enjoyed and accorded to consumers in well developed countries because as consumers, we all deserve to get our money’s worth. For the month of October, we observe Consumer Welfare Month nationwide and my office usually undertake advocacy and consumer related activities to inform citizens of their basic rights as consumers.

This consumer awareness drive dates back in March 15, 1962 when President John Kennedy presented a speech to the United States Congress in which he extolled four basic consumer rights which later became the Consumer Bill of Rights. The United Nations through the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection expanded these into eight rights which was eventually adopted by Consumers International and the Philippines with minor modifications.

Among the guidelines are the right to basic needs. Consumers have the right to choose basic and prime commodities and be assured that products and services are available for them of quality at competitive prices. It means that a consumer should have the opportunity to select the goods or services that he or she wants to purchase. With this right, consumers can look forward to the availability of adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and other services at affordable prices.

Right to Safety. Every consumer should be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life. For this, consumers expects protection from the sale and distribution of dangerous goods and services.

The right to be informed. Consumers have the right to receive adequate information about products on which to base buying decisions. Consumers are given protection against misleading labels and advertising and has the right to be given the facts and information needed to make an informed choice.

The right to be heard and the right to speak. Consumers have the right to equal and fair consideration and treatment in government offices as well as prompt treatment in administrative courts or legal communities. It means that they have a right to complain and speak up when they encounter problems or concerns as consumers.

The right to redress or remedy. Consumers are afforded an opportunity to have a hearing to voice dissatisfaction such that a resolution is reached and the complaint is settled satisfactorily. Consumers have the right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory service.

Right to Consumer Education. This pertains to the right to acquire knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed customer. Consumers are extended continuing consumer education and mastery of knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions in the marketplace. This also goes with our contention that a well-informed customer is a better empowered consumer.

Right to environmental health. The state recognizes that consumers should be protected from the devastating effects of air, earth, and water pollution that may result from the performance of daily marketplace operations. As such, consumers have the right to live and work in an environment that does not threaten the well-being of present and future generations.

The thing with e-commerce and online buying is quite different when making a purchase because the buyer deal indirectly through computers or smartphone applications. That being the case, let me include few tips that I culled from credible sites that shares valuable information on safe online shopping. An online buyer must pay securely with a secure and legitimate website. A secure website address will always begin with ‘https://’ and not ‘http://’. Never give out your bank account details, credit card number or other personal details if you are not certain that the business is a reputable trader.

Only buy from websites you know and trust. You can also check and verify from online forums if the company you intend to make a purchase from has good ratings and services. Do not be an impulsive buyer. I prefer buying from companies that has permanent and physical street address and landline phone number. It also important to note if the product’s warranties and guarantees are valid in the country and the product has an authorized service provider nearby.

Is it really a must that you buy online? I ask because the full cost of your purchase costs may include currency conversion, taxes, delivery fees and packaging other than the shipping cost which might end up more expensive than buying from a local dealer. Only buy online if you are comfortable with a business’s privacy policy. Do not give out information unless they require it to complete the sale. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always make sure that all charges are correct by checking the receipt against your credit card statement, merchant account statement and bank statement. Beware of scammers.
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