Photo: Sveriges Radio

Curbing telemarketer abuses

There’s widespread concern in Sweden about telemarketers signing people up to buy things they really don’t want.

The government has a plan to deal with the situation, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough.

Telemarketers are often criticized in Sweden for calling at all sorts of inconvenient hours, and selling people things they don’t always want or even know they are buying. You can put yourself on a list that telemarketers aren’t supposed to call, but they often do anyway, and there are loopholes in the law.

There are stories of people signing up for what they think are free offers, and then discovering they’ve given their credit card number to someone who bills them for thousands of kronor for a subscription to buy more of the product.

The biggest concern is about telephone sales of financial services, as people have lost all of their pension funds by signing up for a contract they didn’t understand. The government wants to deal with the problem by requiring written approval for contracts related to pensions, rather than just a “yes” over the telephone, and they’re open to extending the idea to other financial services. But the proposal has come in for criticism.

The industry organization Kontakta doesn’t like it. Their president Tina Wahlroth tells Swedish Radio News that "frivolous companies will just find new ways to get around the law".

But others are saying the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Anne Ramberg is the president of the Swedish Bar Association. She tells Swedish Radio News “This is too restricted…we think there should be a complete review with a more widespread approach.”

The Christian Democrats, one of the four parties in the center-right government, want to apply that idea of requiring written approval to all telephone purchases. Roland Utbult is the party’s spokesperson on consumer issues:

“There are far too many people getting themselves into trouble today, he tells Swedish Radio News. “They are tricked into contracts, not least older people who have a hard time defending themselves.”

The Christian Democrats are expected to adopt that approach at their party conference next month. But the other three parties in the center-right government are against the idea.

On the other hand, there is support from the opposition. The Left Party wants the same kind of regulation. And the Social Democrats, Sweden’s largest political party, are moving in that direction, but they want to study the issue further.

Veronika Palm is the Social Democrats’ spokesperson on consumer issues:“I think it is important to investigate the possibilities of written contracts in connection with telephone sales”, she tells Swedish Radio News. But, she says, “oral agreements have a long tradition in Sweden, and a total requirement for written contracts can also be a problem. That can complicate things, and sometimes,” she says, “people want to make a deal quickly.”

But Anne Ramberg, president of the Swedish Bar Association, doesn’t agree.

She says the law on contracts is very old and there are new problems and new situations today that have to be taken into consideration and regulated. Probably, she says, in a different way.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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