Nuisance callers nag consumer protection agency

Awareness campaign worked too well, with section weighed down by complaints of dancing shop attendants while the real work of protecting consumers is affected.

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DUBAI // Consumer protection authorities say complaints about dancing shop attendants and loud store music, among other trivial matters, are clogging their phone lines and keeping them from investigating serious cases.

The launch of the section's awareness campaign earlier this year may have worked too well. Officials said there had been a sevenfold increase in the number of calls, from about 400 last year to 2,851, since the launch.

Almost half of the complaints made this year were deemed to be frivolous and arose from the public misunderstanding their rights.

Examples of nuisance calls made this year included a woman who bought a diamond ring in Dubai five years ago and then demanded a full refund and a replacement when it developed a scratch.

On another occasion a man whose car door was damaged at a repair facility demanded a new car, despite the garage offering to fix the door.

Another complaint was lodged by a woman who visited a mall shop to find loud music playing and shop attendants dancing to the music. She complained to the shop attendants and was so annoyed she also took the matter to the consumer protection agency.

"A lot of our time is spent trying to make these people realise that their consumer rights don't cover these kinds of things," said Adel al Helou, the head of the consumer protection agency.

"This is a serious issue, because the time we spend trying to explain to these callers what the law is and what we can do makes it more difficult to deal with genuine cases."

The situation has led to the agency, part of the Department of Economic Development, being expanded from seven employees to 11 in the past few weeks to cope with the calls.

However, the agency has only one inspector and current demand means it cannot meet its target of settling complaints in two days.

The flood of bogus complaints has had a knock-on effect for people with genuine problems.

Dinesh Lalvani, 35, from Dubai, bought a computer hard drive from a shop in the city, but the retailer initially refused to exchange it despite its being sold with a fault.

He said he filed a complaint with the agency, which took more than 10 days to get back to him. He had managed to reach an agreement with the store in the meantime. "They need to respond to complaints a lot sooner and I'm unhappy it took them so long to even acknowledge my complaint," Mr Lalvani said. "I don't feel as though consumers' rights are taken as seriously here as they are in other countries."

Consumers, including residents and tourists, have the right to buy products and services that are safe, receive accurate information about purchases and have multiple price options under a federal law introduced in 2006.

Authorities urge buyers to always keep the receipt or invoice, and to always read the fine print before signing a contract.

People have the right to have the retailer repair or exchange any defective product, or have a full refund if a repair cannot be made.

A consumer has the right to go back to a retailer at any time a defect appears during the warranty period.

It is illegal for a shop to have signs that state "no refunds" or "no exchanges". However, individual stores can have their own exchange and refund policy, which is allowed as long as the policy is clearly marked on the sales receipt. The sale of counterfeit products, a widespread practice in the Emirates, can result in penalties for the seller.

The agency has no power to intervene in cases of buyer's remorse, contracts that a consumer later regrets signing because the fine print was not read.