…𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙛𝙞𝙨𝙘𝙖𝙡 𝙮𝙚𝙖𝙧 (2022-23) 𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙡 𝙣𝙤𝙬, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝘾𝘾𝘼𝘼 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙚𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙙 42 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙤𝙣𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙚 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙥𝙥𝙞𝙣𝙜
By Phurpa Wangmo
Despite consistent warnings issued by the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) through their Facebook page and website, cautioning the public to exercise vigilance when engaging in online shopping and verify the legitimacy of businesses, there are still reported cases of individuals falling victim to online shopping scams. These scams often involve customers making partial or full payments for products, only to receive nothing in return. Many affected individuals turn to social media to share their experiences, aiming to raise awareness and recover their losses.
From the beginning of the last fiscal year (2022-23) until the present, the CCAA has received 42 complaints related to online shopping. However, seven cases could not be resolved, primarily due to online business entities deactivating their social media accounts or complainants lacking sufficient details about the entities. This prompted the CCAA to advise them to report the cases to the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP).
Tshering Wangmo, a victim, shared her story, detailing how she was lured by an enticing offer on Facebook but never received the promised items after making an initial payment. Wangmo recounted her unfortunate experience, saying, “I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a seller from Phuentsholing offering a pant at an exceptionally reasonable price compared to shops in Thimphu. Intrigued, I decided to make a purchase and was asked to pay half of the total amount via mbob (Mobile Banking). The seller assured me that the items would be delivered within a week. However, even after a week had passed, I had not received my order. When I attempted to contact the seller, I was shocked to find that she had blocked me on all social media platforms.”
Another customer, named Sonam, shared a similar ordeal, saying, “I too fell victim to an online seller who promised to deliver my order via Gelephu bus after receiving full payment. However, days passed, and there was no sign of my purchase. I found myself blocked by the seller and unable to reach her. I contemplated reporting the incident to the CCAA and the police, but I hesitated, considering the amount involved, which was only Nu 3200 for the items.”
Sonam further explained, “In an attempt to prevent other customers from falling into the same trap and to alert the seller about her unscrupulous practices, I posted about the incident on my social media page. However, I later removed the post after just 13 minutes. My uncle advised me against publicly shaming others on social media, citing the risk of being charged with defamation.”
An official from the CCAA expressed concern about the growing trend of online shopping on various social media platforms, emphasizing the importance of consumers exercising caution and conducting thorough research on online businesses. The CCAA continues to issue timely warnings through its social media channels, urging consumers to verify the legitimacy of businesses before making online purchases. They also recommend conducting transactions through business accounts whenever possible to ensure the authenticity of online businesses. The Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations (CPRR) 2015, applicable to both online and offline transactions, are in place to address consumer grievances.
Additionally, regulations such as the Trade and Industry Rule 2023, e-commerce guidelines, and the Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan 2012 govern e-commerce entities, imposing requirements such as obtaining an e-commerce license, prominently displaying it, issuing invoices, providing clear information about products and services, disclosing prices, and offering a transparent return/cancellation policy.
An official said, “Currently, there are no plans to establish a dedicated authority for addressing online shopping issues, as existing laws, including the Consumer Protection Act 2012 and CPRR 2015, provide the necessary framework. The CCAA conducts consumer education campaigns through various channels, educating the public about recognizing common online shopping scams, identifying phishing emails, and spotting fraudulent websites. We also operate a toll-free number (1214) for reporting unfair online activities related to the sale of goods and services.”
“Consumers who believe they have been deceived or wronged by a business entity are encouraged to file complaints with the CCAA through the toll-free number 1214, by submitting an online complaint via www.ocp.gov.bt, or by visiting the office in person with detailed information and evidence,” added the official.
Furthermore, the CCAA encourages consumers to conduct transactions through business accounts whenever possible to verify the authenticity of online businesses, rather than using personal accounts.
As of now, the CCAA has facilitated refunds to aggrieved consumers and subsequently rectified the online business entities if the complainants have the evidence and details of the online business entity.
To safeguard their interests, consumers are advised, under Section 5 of the CPA 2012 and Rule 7 of the CPRR 2015, to exercise caution when making purchasing decisions, compare prices and product features, critically evaluate advertising claims, and avoid impulsive decisions based on exaggerated representations.