Important to promote consumer education

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act provides the same protection to consumers who make purchases from online retailers as it does for consumers purchasing from brick-and-mortar shops ("Extend law to protect online shoppers too" by Ms Bea Joy Lee; last Thursday, and "Need for holistic reform in consumer protection" by Mr David Chang Cheok Weng; Sept 24).

This means that action can be taken against errant online retailers under our legislation.

However, it can be challenging to enforce the judgment against an overseas retailer if it has no presence in Singapore.

Consumers, thus, need to be aware of the risks of making online purchases from overseas retailers and take extra steps to protect themselves before making their purchase.

This could include checking reviews on the reputation of websites and retailers, and the refund policy and mechanisms.

We understand the frustrations of consumers when there is sudden business failure, especially when they have made prepayments for delivery of goods or services that have yet to be fulfilled.

Many businesses offer various choices, including prepaid packages and early-bird specials, as a way to attract customers.

These are common business practices worldwide.

Consumers also benefit from discounts for purchasing prepaid packages.

Given the wide range of businesses, it would be challenging to impose broad-based measures on all businesses to protect consumers against loss of prepayments from business closures.

Even large businesses that have been in business for many years are not immune to business failures.

Overseas jurisdictions such as the United States, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong do not impose broad-based measures, as the increased cost of doing business would eventually be passed on to consumers.

Consumer education, thus, remains an important pillar of our consumer protection framework.

Consumers must learn to exercise their choices carefully, especially for large purchases or contracts over long periods.

We will continue to work with the Consumers Association of Singapore to improve consumer education. The Ministry of Trade and Industry will continue to monitor the retail landscape and study the developments in other jurisdictions, as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act remains relevant and provides adequate protection to consumers.

Cindy Keng (Mrs)

Director

Corporate Communications Division

Ministry of Trade and Industry

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Important to promote consumer education'. Print Edition | Subscribe