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Consumer Connection February 2019

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

In this edition

  • $8.5 million in redress for Queensland consumers
  • Fuel price reporting trial helps Queensland drivers compare local servos
  • Stronger protection for car and caravan owners introduced to Parliament
  • Number plate cloning
  • Gold Coast tradie ordered to pay $253,500 for unfinished jobs
  • Don't fall in love with a scammer
  • National 'Too good to be true' campaign kicks off
  • National safety warning for portable pools

$8.5 million in redress for Queensland consumers

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) finalised 16,063 complaints and achieved almost $8.5 million in redress for consumers in 2018. This includes refunds, repairs, replacements, repeat services and other compensation.

More than $5 million of this was achieved via our conciliation of consumer complaints. The remainder was achieved for consumers via court decisions and other enforcement actions such as enforceable undertakings.

The most complained about industry in 2019 was the household goods industry, which includes products such as televisions, appliances and furniture.

The next most complained about industries were personal and household services, followed by motor vehicle sales.

For more information on these results or to find out more about complaints and redress in your region, visit our website

Fuel price reporting trial helps Queensland drivers compare local servos

Fuel prices in most large cities move up and down in patterns or cycles, with the cheapest and most expensive days to buy fuel changing from cycle to cycle. This makes it difficult for consumers to know where or when to fill up at the cheapest price.

In a bid to give consumers the information they need, a two year fuel price reporting trial commenced in December 2018, giving motorists access to timely and accurate fuel prices.

Mandatory fuel price reporting will not stop the fuel price cycle, nor is it designed to alter the prices charged for fuel overall. It is intended to empower motorists, helping them to find the best deal in their area when they are ready to buy fuel.

What does this mean for Queensland drivers?

All fuel retailers will be required to enter their fuel prices into a reporting system within 30 minutes of the price changing at the bowser. These prices will then be provided for free to existing and new smartphone apps and websites such as MotorMouth, GasBuddy, PetrolSpy, RACQ and Compare the Market.

It means motorists can get timely information about local petrol prices so they can choose the best value option to fuel their car.

For more information on the trial, visit www.dnrme.qld.gov.au.

Stronger protection for car and caravan owners introduced to Parliament

Late last year, the Queensland Government introduced a Bill to Parliament to increase consumer protections for people who have been sold faulty new or used motor vehicles.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 includes an increase to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s (QCAT’s) jurisdictional limit from $25,000 to $100,000 for vehicles with a major fault or multiple minor faults. So Queensland motorists who buy a faulty car will be able to take sellers to QCAT for claims of up to $100,000

The Bill also provides for the reinstatement of statutory warranty protection to help protect those buying cars that are more than 10 years old or have high mileage.

Number plate cloning

Number plate cloning is a new scam you should try to drive away from.

The OFT is warning Queenslanders to be wary of the scam which was first reported in 2018 and is still doing the rounds.

It involves criminals finding photos of cars which are the same make and colour as their own and creating a copy of that car’s number plate to stick over their own plates. They then rack up fines and tolls, run red lights, and even steal petrol. Unfortunately, the legitimate owner of the registration plate will then receive infringement notices and will be left trying to prove it wasn’t them or their car involved.

Unfortunately it is hard to protect yourself from this scam, but there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of it happening to you, such as not posting photos that show your car’s number plate to social media or on car sales sites.

If you receive a suspicious traffic fine, parking ticket or tollway bill you should challenge it immediately and report it to authorities.

Gold Coast tradie ordered to pay $253,500 for
unfinished jobs

The OFT has prosecuted Gold Coast tradesman Ali Faraj for using a fake Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) licence in his advertising and accepting money for building services he did not provide.

In May 2018, we issued a public warning to not deal with Mr Faraj or his business, Promaster Painting and Maintenance. On 14 January 2019, the courts convicted the trader and ordered him to pay more than $250,000 in fines and compensation.

While this is a great outcome to a sorry situation, it is also a reminder to consumers to take steps to prevent this type of thing occurring.

It is vitally important to do your research before handing over your money, particularly when there are large sums involved.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, traders must not accept payment for products and services they cannot or do not intend to supply, but unfortunately some do.

If you see a licence number in an advertisement, conduct a licence search to ensure you’re dealing with someone legitimate.  Most government organisations have a free licence search function on their websites.

You should also conduct an internet search to see what people are saying about a trader, and to check if any warnings have been issued about them.

Finally, ensure you know your consumer rights and any obligations the trader has under legislation or codes of conduct for their industry. Remember to source multiple quotes, and only use reputable traders that don’t insist on large up-front payments.

Conduct a QBCC licence search

Conduct a search of OFT licensed industries

Don't fall in love with a scammer

Looking for love online is increasingly common, but while most people know romance scams exist, they can sometimes miss, or don’t want to see, the warning signs.

We all want to believe the person we’ve fallen in love with feels the same way, regardless of how we’ve met. Unfortunately, scammers are prepared to invest a lot of time building up trust, and may even send gifts to the person they say they love. Conversations can go on for many weeks or months before they start asking for money.

Dating websites and apps provide a forum for people to connect, but they can’t guarantee the people who join their platforms are genuine about finding love or that their profiles are real.

In 2018 Australians reported losing more than $24 million to dating and romance scammers. So if you think you may be being scammed, you’re certainly not alone.

The best protection is to be careful with your information, not send money to anyone you’ve only met online or via social media, no matter how long you’ve known them, and of course to be aware of signs your new amour may not be what they seem.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • The person you’ve met online is quick to express strong feelings for you and wants to move your communications away from the dating website or app.
  • There are inconsistencies between their profile picture and how they describe themselves.
  • There’s no way you can meet the person, without you having to send them money. They may make excuses about why they can’t travel to see you.
  • After gaining your trust they ask you to send money. They might say their money is stuck in a legal problem or they have a sick relative and they need money to cover the medical costs.

What to do:

  • Be careful about the personal information you share, and avoid sharing compromising material. Scammers can use these to commit identity fraud or blackmail you.
  • If you suspect you’ve already sent money to a scammer, you should stop any further transfers and cease all contact with them.
  • If you think you’ve given your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
  • Report scams to the national ScamWatch service at scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

For more information about romance scams and what to look out for, visit scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/dating-romance

National ‘Too good to be true’ campaign kicks off

The OFT, the ACCC and state and territory consumer affairs agencies have joined forces to launch a new scams awareness campaign called ‘Too good to be true’.

The campaign aims to raise awareness among Indigenous consumers about the warning signs of scam conduct and to empower them to take action and report any contact or activity they think may be a scam.

If you think you have been contacted by a scammer follow these steps:

Stop: think twice and stop contact with someone immediately if they ask you to send money or give out personal information.

Check it might be a scam. Is the person who they say they are?

Act by hanging up or deleting the message. Report it to the ACCC Indigenous Infoline on 1300 303 143. If you have lost money, call your bank straight away. Remember, you’re not to blame, so don’t feel shame.

Mention to family and friends so they don’t get caught by the scam too.

Learn more about protecting yourself or your family from scams or watch our video.

For advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers and other consumer protection initiatives in Queensland, visit www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading.

For a copy of the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy Action Plan 2017–2019, visit www.nics.org.au

National safety warning for portable pools

The OFT has joined forces with other Australian consumer protection regulators and Royal Life Saving Australia as part of a ‘Don’t duck out. Make it SAFE’ portable pool safety campaign.

Portable pools can be an attractive, cheaper alternative to in-ground pools, but even though they contain less water, they can be just as dangerous.

Small blow-up or plastic paddling or kiddie pools, wading pools, inflatable spas or high-sided flexible plastic pools on a frame all generally seem like a fun and easy option for keeping cool in summer.

But parents and carers of small children need to know a smaller pool does not equal a smaller drowning risk. In fact, the risk to small children could even be greater, because the smaller portable pool could seem safer and remind children of play equipment or bath-time.

On average, one child a year drowns in a portable pool in Australia and more are hospitalised, some with severe brain injuries.

We’ve put together some safety tips to help prevent your child becoming a tragic statistic:

Supervise. Kids are curious, attracted to water and may like to climb. Portable pools in the back yard can seem toy-like and remind them of bath-time.  So always actively watch children within arm’s reach. Don’t leave older children in charge.

Act. Learn emergency response including CPR. It’s important to start compressions and breaths as soon as possible when a child is pulled from the water and to call triple zero (000) for help. If there are two people, one should make the phone call while the other does CPR.

Fence. In Queensland, if a pool has more than 30cm or 2,000L of water in it, there is a legal requirement to have a compliant safety barrier. Check with your local council regarding fencing requirements.

Empty and store safely. After keeping watch all day, pour out water and put the pool away where children can’t reach. Never leave it where it can refill with rain or sprinkler water.

More information on the ‘Don’t duck out. Make it SAFE’ campaign is available at www.productsafety.gov.au/makeitsafe.

Want to know more about what's happening at a national level to protect consumers?

The OFT works with other state-based and national consumer protection agencies on consumer protection and education issues.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs—also known as CAF—consists of all Commonwealth, state and territory and New Zealand ministers responsible for consumer policy. You can read the minutes from their most recent meeting on the Australian Consumer Law website.

What’s in the news?

Here is a sample of some recent Office of Fair Trading news from around the state. For more media statements and other news, visit our website.

Gold Coast real estate agent fined for keeping rent money
12 February 2019
A Gold Coast real estate agent was fined $20,000 in the Southport Magistrates Court on 11 February after charges were brought by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for wrongfully converting trust money.

Love app-tually – your perfect match may come with a catch*
7 February 2019
Queenslanders looking for love via dating apps and websites are being reminded of their consumer rights by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) as Valentine’s Day approaches.

$8.4 million given back to Queenslanders*
22 January 2019
Queenslanders received more than $8.4 million in refunds, repairs, replacements and other compensation with the help of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in 2018.

Gold Coast tradesman ordered to pay $253,500 for unfinished jobs
14 January 2019
A Gold Coast tradesman has been convicted and ordered to pay more than $253,500 in fines and compensation in the Gold Coast Magistrates Court today (14 January 2019) after charges were laid by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Exercise your rights when joining a gym*
3 January 2019
If your New Year's resolution involves joining a gym, the Office of Fair Trading has some advice to help you flex your consumer muscles.

Your rights when it comes to returning unwanted Christmas gifts*
26 December 2018
Want to know if ugly sweaters and defective sweaters are created equal when it comes to refunds and exchanges?

Signman says – caught out, pay up
21 December 2018
A Bowen Hills based business owner has been ordered to pay more than $15,000 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court today (21 December 2018) after charges were laid by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for failing to supply goods and services.

Agency fined for illegally obtaining a sales commission
19 December 2018
Sunnybank Hills real estate agency Prestige & Rich Pty Ltd, trading as Stephanie To Realty, was yesterday fined $5,000 by the Holland Park Magistrates Court.

Beware travelling conmen offering storm repairs
13 December 2018
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is reminding Queenslanders likely to be affected by severe storms or tropical cyclones to be on the lookout for travelling conmen.

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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.