Fighting unfair trade practices due to COVID-19 in the EU

The issue of unfair practices during the pandemic was of an interest of the European Commission, which, together with Member States’ consumer protection authorities, took a number of steps to identify practices in EU countries and issued guidance to consumers.

The common position published by the European Commission shows that the most frequently used unfair practices include indicating that the given product prevents coronovirus infection, heals COVID-19 or, by strengthening immunity, allows for faster eradication of the virus.

An example of unfair practices is also advertising products such as face masks as “coronovirus masks” even though there is no evidence that masks actually protect against infection.

Such actions constitute unfair practices within the meaning of art. 5 and 6 of Directive 2005/29/WE on unfair business-to-consumer practices in the internal market and even constitute one of the cases of the so-called blacklist from Annex 1 to the Directive. Pursuant to point 17 of the Annex, a false claiming that a product is able to cure illness, dysfunction or malformations is a commercial practice is unfair practice under all circumstances.

In times of the pandemic, it has also become common to use manipulative sales techniques based on false and misleading information, including alleged shortages of goods on the market and problems with obtaining them in order to justify excessive prices.

Slogans such as “limited offer”, “available in limited quantity”. “product almost sold out” when selling protective masks for prices 600% higher than regular prices of this products are a clear example of unfair practice mentioned in point 18 of the Annex 1 to the Directive. These are actions consisting in the provision of factually inaccurate information about market conditions or the possibility of finding a product with the intention of persuading the consumer to purchase the product on terms less favourable than normal market conditions.

Unfair practices are particularly intensified in the Internet. That is why the European Commission formulated a number of guidelines for consumers to safely buy online. These include issues such as:

  • providing the identity and contact details of the seller on the website,
  • suspicious website addresses,
  • spelling errors used such as “C?V?D?19” or “cor/na?vir?s” to circumvent detection by algorithms,
  • precise and correct product description,
  • identification of unfair selling techniques and false information about market conditions.

More information on the activities of the European Commission and guidelines for consumer may be found at:

https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/consumers/enforcement-consumer-protection/scams-related-covid-19_pl

 

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