2016 brings an interesting challenge to the consumers in Israel.
On one hand, the business sector stick to its knitting, namely to explore every avenue to take out money from the public, using permitted and forbidden temptations and many marketing manipulations that are in the gray area. It is sufficient to mention three types of particularly outrageous complaints among over 40,000 complaints the Consumer Council has received last year to illustrate the devious and sometimes deceptive approach of some business owners:
* Communication corporations that have offered customers some gifts in the form of free tablets, and have actually charged them with monthly payments for months and years for their "free gift".
* Sophisticated agencies that have profiteered from the dreams of young people, many of them minors, and have sold them delusions of casting and modeling contracts that will begin to flow, if they only register at their agencies for the cost of several thousand dollars, without having done anything to bring those registrants to auditions.
* Law-firms directed by greedy businessmen have sent scary letters to tens of thousands of consumers, in which they informed the consumers that they were about to open execution procedure against them due to debts from several years ago, if they do not repay their debt immediately, without providing them with any letter or proof regarding the existence of the debt, while it is not clear that the debt has really ever existed.
All these are independent Israeli creations – a true Israeli pride – that do not fall under the Volkswagen affair, in which the giant company planned and implanted software that forged pollutant emissions data when identifying that the vehicle was being tested.
On the other hand – the toolbox that is available to the Israeli consumers so they can protect themselves - is richer than ever:
Much information on consumer rights that is delivered in a friendly manner is available on the Consumer Council's website and various communication medias. The Consumer Council and various applications created by private entrepreneurs provide consumers with web search engines aimed at comparing prices and helping choosing the cheapest store before leaving home. These applications were developed following the entry into force of the chapter relating to transparency of prices in the law in order to increase competition in the food industry. Consulting services and handling consumer complaints about the violation of their rights and even drafting indictments in small claims courts are provided to the public by the Consumer Council at no charge.
More aggressive enforcement actions are conducted by the Authority for Consumer Protection and Fair Trade at the Ministry of Economy with the entry into force of the authority to impose financial penalties.
Israeli reality requires consumers to remember two things:
The first one - unfairness will keep on tarnishing trade life next year.
"Deception is an integral part of the free market" – has recently stated Professor George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics. Modifying this reality will take much longer and will require an integrated process such as periodic publication of the fairness index to the public in different business sectors, and education to fairness in schools as well as in economics and business administration classes in colleges and universities.
The second one – for the rights of the consumer to be damaged, cooperation on the part of the consumer, either active or passive, is required.
It takes two to tango: It will be more difficult to take advantage of a consumer who stays vigilant and who makes sure to have the consumer information that is required to protect his rights. Unfortunately, the wise consumer index published by the Consumer Council in 2015 gave a particularly low score to public awareness regarding customers' rights.
Midnight bells that have heralded the beginning of 2016 should inspire consumers to a more responsible and active approach in relation to their equipment with the informative and actions toolbox they are provided with. This way, they will not only help themselves but will also help preventing such evils like unfairness and cost of living that are continuously affecting us.