THIS newspaper has regularly reported and warned about the telephone scams which give people a nasty shock when they get their Telefonica bill and find out that waiting to be connected to hear how much they have won in a prize that never existed has cost them a lot of money.
Tracking the scoundrels who devise and operate these and other frauds is not easy and getting them into court and convicted is extremely difficult. Both tasks will be helped by a new European Union measure passed by the EU Parliament in Strasbourg this week; called The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, it bans 28 specific activities including telephone prize-draw scams, pyramid marketing schemes, and the so-called bait advertising that offers amazing bargains, for instance in airline seats, but fails to say that only one or two are actually available. This new legislation puts a general duty on all commercial companies in the EU to avoid unfair trading and will replace existing national consumer protection laws in all EU countries when it comes into force in 2007. The Directive is very widely-drawn. It bans advertising which urges children to persuade their parents to buy products and it makes an offence of advertising in which a company pretends to be an individual selling something privately. Persistent sales calls by telephone, fax or e-mail and aggressive door-to-door selling are covered as are false closing down shop sales.
We shall doubtless hear from some quarters that this Directive is yet another example of the EU nanny state extending its tentacles. But most people will think that its provisions are sensible and necessary and will give both the police and the courts powers to stop at least some of the annoying and costly scams.