Laws do protect vulnerable consumers

There has been much public outcry over Mobile Air's unscrupulous sales tactics.

While netizens and the authorities have expressed shock and disapproval over such tactics, it is not altogether true that we do not have adequate laws to protect consumers.

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act does provide that "it is an unfair practice for a supplier... to take advantage of a consumer... who is not in a position to protect his own interests; or is not reasonably able to understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction or any matter related to the transaction".

The Second Schedule to the Act also defines unfair practice as "taking advantage of a consumer by including in an agreement terms or conditions that are harsh, oppressive or excessively one-sided so as to be unconscionable".

While it is always desirable for contracting parties to be astute and careful before signing a contract, it is not as if a less-than-careful buyer is without protection.

The purpose of the Act and its provisions clearly takes a proactive position in protecting such vulnerable and unsuspecting buyers.

It is undeniable, however, that these laws would improve significantly if the Consumers Association of Singapore were given more powers and if criminal sanctions were introduced.

MP Vikram Nair had commented that it is "highly unusual" to give a consumer association powers of enforcement and to administer fines.

In Australia, though, fines are enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. So such a practice is not unusual.

I hope our lawmakers can consider legislative reforms in the form of criminal sanctions.

In the meantime, while our laws are not perfect, there is some protection for those who are less than careful. Traders cannot think they can engage in deceitful practices and get away with it.

David Chang Cheok Weng

This article was first published on Nov 13, 2014.
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