Misleading telephone sales of dietary supplements and natural products is a nuisance for the elderly

In the early part of the year, consumers contacted the Consumer Advice Services and the Consumer Ombudsman on more than 130 occasions concerning the telephone sales of dietary supplements and natural products. In the contacts, recurrent themes included subscription traps and problems encountered by the weakest consumer groups such as the selling of dietary supplements to memory-impaired elderly people under an open-ended contract.

According to the consumers who had contacted the consumer authorities, the telephone sales of natural products and dietary supplements causes a wide range of problems for consumers. Typical orders include those under which consumers inadvertently or due to too incomplete or misleading information commit to long-term subscriptions from which they cannot break free.

– We probably see only the tip of the iceberg as, according to a European survey, only 2.5 % of Finnish consumers contact authorities when they encounter problems, says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.

Misleading telephone sales is particularly problematic when it targets elderly people. Elderly people have not always understood that they have entered into a contract during a telephone conversation or what the contract contains. Even if they refused the order, in some cases the company has nevertheless shipped the product.

– In telemarketing, the customer must be told the content and total cost of the order clearly and in an understandable manner in the marketing call, as well as the customer’s right to cancel. This is not only the seller’s duty but also part of their professional skills, says Katri Väänänen, emphasizing her point.

It is illegal to ship products without an express order. The customer is not obligated to pay for or return goods that they have not ordered. However, the customer should contact the seller to clarify the matter.

The matter can be discussed with seniors by asking if they have received sales calls or if they have received vitamin or natural product shipments in the post.

People’s concern about the coronavirus has also been utilized in the marketing of natural products and dietary supplements. For example, if a seller claims that a marketed natural product or dietary supplement could prevent or cure coronavirus infections, it is a scam attempt. There is no scientific evidence that consuming supplements or other foods could protect against coronavirus or cure the disease that it causes.

Instructions for consumers

  • If you have received an invoice from the company that charges for a non-sample package or an introductory order, even though you think that you have only ordered a product sample from the company, send the company a written complaint stating that you dispute the payment request. For example, you can justify your complaint as follows: ”Following a sales call I ordered a product sample and paid for its shipping. I have not placed any other orders.” You can also use our online application Complaint Assistant to help you draw up a complaint. Keep the complaint that you submitted.
  • If debt collection procedures are instituted, complain about the collection in writing to the collection company. When you dispute your obligation to pay and give proper reasons for your stance, the debt collection may not legally proceed before the matter is cleared up.
  • If the complaints are not successful, you should contact the Consumer Advisory Services.
  • You may restrict telemarketing by prohibiting the disclosure of name and address information from information systems maintained by public authorities, by registering with the direct marketing restriction service or by notifying the marketer or seller of the marketing ban, in which case the ban will be applied to the company in question.
  • You may report misleading marketing to the Consumer Ombudsman.
  • Municipal supervisory authorities for food quality and safety are responsible for the marketing control of dietary supplements and other foodstuffs.

For further information:
Subscription traps and scams