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Consumer Connection February 2018

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Welcome to the February edition of Consumer Connection, linking you to the latest information and tips from the Queensland Office of Fair Trading.

In this edition

Changes to discounted prices on fuel price boards

From 31 January 2018, petrol stations will not be able to display conditionally discounted prices of fuel on the price board.

All fuel retailers must show only the full price of fuel available to all motorists, instead of displaying potentially misleading or confusing prices.

The regulation also requires fuel retailers to change the price displayed on their price boards in a coordinated way, so when prices do change you won’t pay more at the pump than was displayed on the fuel price board.

Fuel retailers will still be able to offer and promote discount fuel price schemes (e.g. supermarket discounts or buy in store discounts), as long as only the full undiscounted price is displayed on the fuel price board.

For more information on the new regulation visit the Department of Energy and Water Supply.

Queensland’s plastic shopping ban

It is estimated that close to one billion single use lightweight supermarket style plastic shopping bags are used in Queensland each year. Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection advise that while most of these end up in landfill, around 16 million enter the environment in Queensland each year. The lightweight plastic bags often end up in waterways endangering marine life when they become tangled up in a bag, or worse still, ingest it. In addition, the bags are an eyesore when littering parks and neighbourhoods.

To help stop this problem, the Queensland Government is enforcing a state-wide ban on single use plastic bags from 1 July 2018. Under the ban, retailers will no longer be able to provide or sell customers single-use lightweight plastic shopping bags, including biodegradable bags, which are under 35 microns.

What can shoppers do?

  • Take your reusable bags when shopping instead of using the supermarket style single use plastic bag.
  • Keep a reusable shopping bag in your car or bag, so you are always prepared.
  • You can find more information at the Queensland Government website.

What can retailers do?

  • Visit the Queensland Bag Ban website.  They have information about how to manage the ban, details about upcoming workshops throughout Queensland, and resources retailers can download or print, such as staff training kits and signage, to assist with the change.
  • The National Retail Association can assist with questions you may have and can be contacted at www.nra.net.au or 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245).

Ban on excessive credit, debit and prepaid card surcharges

Businesses are banned from charging excessive payment surcharges on credit, debit and prepaid card payments. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will investigate consumer complaints and take enforcement action where necessary.

When you pay a business using certain payment types, for example a credit card, the business incurs costs for processing the payment. These costs are usually paid by the business to its bank. Some businesses include these costs in the price they charge for their goods or services in the same way they incorporate other costs of doing business, such as rent and electricity. Some businesses pass the costs on as a payment surcharge.

A payment surcharge is an additional amount charged by a business when you pay for goods or services by one form of payment (e.g. a credit card) rather than another (e.g. cash).

The ban does not prevent a business from setting its own prices for the goods or services it sells. A business will usually determine its prices at a level where it covers all its costs, and includes a profit margin.

If a business includes in its prices what it calls a ‘service fee’ or a ‘handling fee’ the ban will apply if those ‘fees’ are payable on some payment methods but not others (e.g. the fees apply when a customer pays with a credit or debit card, but not when the payment method is cash). A business is not able to by-pass the new ban by introducing what is in effect a payment surcharge but calling it something else.

Businesses don’t have to offer a card payment option for transactions. But if they do, they have to comply with surcharging laws regardless of the cost of the product.

The ACCC website provides more information and case studies on credit, debit and prepaid card surcharge.

Swimming aids and pool toys

For most Queenslanders, summer means perfect, sunny weather and endless amounts of fun in the water with swimming aids and pool toys.

Make sure the swimming aids and pool toys are used correctly, always check the condition and age suitability before use. Remove all items when not in use to avoid temptation for young children to use the pool. Children should always be actively supervised by a responsible adult when in the pool area. Think safety first and follow our helpful tips.

Join a gym or fitness provider

If joining a gym is on your to do list for 2018, make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities.

To sign up, you and the gym will have to sign a contract. It will set out the terms you agreed to and your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of the business.

In Queensland, new agreements must include a cooling-off period of 48 hours. You can change your mind about joining the gym during this time. If you want to cancel the agreement, you must tell them in writing before the 48 hours is over.

Before you sign a membership agreement, the gym must give you a written statement in plain English. It needs to outline the total fees and charges for the length of your membership.

The statement must tell you about their regular fees including the first joining fee (this is sometimes lower for a period of time and then increase), your regular membership, the entry fee for each visit and any fees for additional services or programs.

They must also tell you about their administrative fees. These fees might include cancelling in the cooling-off period, ending your membership due to permanent sickness or injury or for any other reason, transferring your membership to another fitness centre or person, suspending your membership and anything else they outline in the agreement.

You also need to be mindful of the different membership types including prepaid, ongoing agreements and fixed term agreements.

  • If you sign up to be a member for over 12 months, you only have to pre-pay the first 12 months. It’s illegal for a gym or fitness centre to charge you for longer.
  • Ongoing (or rollover) agreements are a category of membership that has an initial membership period (usually 6 or 12 months) and will continue beyond that initial term.
  • Fixed term agreements are a category of membership that has a fixed term membership (usually 6 or 12 months) and will not continue beyond that initial term.

It is illegal for a gym or fitness centre to continue taking payments without authority at the conclusion of a fixed term agreement.

The Office of Fair Trading website provides more information about signing up to a fitness provider and ending your membership.

Scammers looking for more than love

Some people think Valentine’s Day is a scam – because of the amount of money people spend on flowers, cards, perfume and other gifts.

Well, we are happy to report it doesn’t fit our definition of a scam since all those who love the day willingly dip into their pockets and wallets. But the OFT is reminding consumers to be cautious when online around Valentine’s Day, as romance scams typically ramp up at this time of year. Most romance scams are carried out via the internet, social networking sites and email.  They can be especially common on dating apps, where people create fake accounts.
Scammers will groom vulnerable people into trusting them, and will eventually ask for money, pretending it is for a personal problem.

Follow these tips to help you stay safe from online romance scams:

  • Be open to the idea that scammers are prevalent online.
  • Be wary of anyone who asks you for money. This could happen within days or years of meeting someone online. Never transfer money via direct deposit, money order or international transfer.
  • Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. You can do this through Google images by clicking on the camera icon on the desktop version of the site’s search bar. This can help you identify if the image has been taken from someone else, or belongs to a few people with different names.
  • Be careful about the amount of personal information you share. Avoid sharing compromising material, which scammers can use to blackmail you.
  • If you agree to meet someone in person, make sure you let your family and friends know where you will be going.

Visit the Scamwatch website for more information or to report a romance scam.

Be on the lookout for travelling con men

Be wary of itinerant traders (also known as a travelling con men) who travel from door to door seeking work. Itinerant traders have no fixed address, but instead move around so they can target new towns and suburbs. Itinerant traders aim many of their operations at older people, who may have trouble maintaining their homes.

If you are approached by somebody you think might be an itinerant trader:

  • ask to see a Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) licence (formerly the Queensland Building Services Authority)
  • do not pay for anything upfront (even materials)
  • decline any offer to drive you to your bank
  • demand a receipt with the trader's name and street address on it.

Itinerant traders will try to convince you to hire their services on the spot. This is illegal. All door-to-door salespeople must give you a cooling-off period of 10 business days to change your mind. They must not take any money during the cooling-off period. Nor can they begin any service during this time.

Do not employ any trader who does not have proper identification or contact details. Their work or the goods may not be satisfactory, and you will be unable to contact them to fix the job or provide a refund.

The Office of Fair Trading website provides more information on how to recognise an itinerant trader and rules door-to-door salespeople must follow.

Recalls roundup

If a product is found to present a safety risk, it may need to be recalled. Recalling products identified as safety hazards can help to prevent injuries to consumers. A product safety recall is the most common way for a supplier to remove unsafe goods from the supply chain.  However, to be effective, consumers need to be made aware of current recalls on consumer products.

Listed below are some products which have recently been recalled nationally:

More information on product recalls can be found on the ACCC recalls website.

What’s in the news?

Visit our website for the latest news and media statements.

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© The State of Queensland, Department of Justice and Attorney-General, 2018.

The Queensland Government supports and encourages the dissemination and exchange of information. However, copyright protects the material in this document. While the State of Queensland (Department of Justice and Attorney-General) has no objection to this material being reproduced, or made available online, or electronically, it asserts the right to be recognised as the owner of the copyright and the right to have this material remain unaltered and not used to endorse any product or service.