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Unsolicited supplies now illegal but make sure you read all the fine print

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In a fast paced world, it is all too easy to sign a piece of paper without closely checking the fine print.

With the recent introduction of the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”) – and if there is no reasonable belief there is a right to do so – it is now illegal to:

  • request payment for unsolicited goods or services;
  • request payment for unauthorised entries or advertisements; or
  • send unsolicited credit cards or debit cards.

A business or person must not issue an invoice requesting payment for goods or services supplied to someone who has not agreed to buy or receive them, or for unauthorised entries or advertisements, unless they have a reasonable belief they have a right to be paid or the invoice contains the warning: “This is not a bill. You are not required to pay any money.”

There are severe criminal and civil penalties for such conduct, up to $1.1 million for a body corporate and $220,000 for an individual.

While the ACL provides protection in Australia, we have become aware of a number of so-called ‘online scams’ that aim to trick recipients into agreeing to pay for goods or services or entry into online directories or advertising.

An example of this type of trap is the “advertising offer” that seems to targets businesses that exhibit or register at national and international trade shows, conferences and exhibitions. This begins with correspondence that appears to come from an organisation working with the event organisers seeking to clarify the details of the target business.

The correspondence offers a “free” website listing via an advertisement entry form to be signed and mailed back. It appears designed to mislead recipients into believing that by returning the signed, completed form, they are obtaining a free listing. However, the fine print on the form states that the business is signing up to three years’ worth of payments – payments which roll on each year unless cancelled by giving three months notice before the end of the advertising period. Once the form is returned, the recipient business is then bombarded with legal demands for payment.

We urge all clients who may attend or exhibit at such trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions to treat such correspondence with caution, and ensure you are actually dealing directly with the organisers of any event you have booked to attend.

We also strongly urge all businesses to ensure they read the fine print on any such offer very carefully before signing and returning documentation, and if in doubt, please contact us at MST.

If you find you have already become the target of such a ruse and are receiving threatening legal letters demanding payment for unsolicited goods, services or advertising entries, please contact us for advice.

Author: Louise Wolf

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