Not long ago, an American cousin reserved a shuttle to take her from her Manhattan hotel to the airport. The company charged her credit card $45 for the trip.
She stood outside the hotel at the designated time, and after waiting 40 minutes she called the company and was told there was a traffic jam but that the shuttle would arrive momentarily. It never came. She took a taxi to the airport where, fortunately, her flight had been delayed.
While she waited for the taxi she contacted her bank and explained the situation. The $45 was returned to her account immediately, and it was left for the bank to contact the supplier. If there was no proof that she was wrong, or no dispute, the money would remain there. If there was a problem, the bank would let her know. And there was no dispute.
Unfortunately, here in Israel the credit card laws are completely different. While you can get the credit card company to erase a charge for a transaction you never made, it is almost impossible to get credit card companies to remove a charge on your say-so alone. It is your problem, not the banks, or that of the credit card company. The only exceptions are in cases where there are ongoing charges: what you already paid will not be returned but future charges can be stopped temporarily while the credit card company makes inquiries.
Which is why I cannot stress too strongly that you never give your credit card number when contacted by phone (how can you be sure who is on the other line?). Nor should you do so unless you have a contract that you have read and understood.
Therefore, make sure that the website from which you order has a working address (check it out!), a phone number with someone responsible on the other end, and a company tax number. Because when you can’t even find a company to sue, you can whistle for your money.
THERE ARE three organizations in Israel that consumers can turn to with complaints about money that they paid for a transaction that they canceled, or for which they didn’t get what they paid for. They are 1) the Reshut leHaganat Hatzarchan (Reshut - Consumer Protection Authority), 2) HaMoetza HaIsraelit laTzarchan (Israel Consumer Council – a statutory nonprofit consumer organization and the largest consumer organization in Israel established to
protect consumer rights, and 3) Emun Hatzibur (The Civic Trust) – a nonprofit public organization with the single goal of improving business practices in Israel, particularly where they mesh with the rights of consumers.
You can complain about shady business practices to the Reshut, which has the right to sue a company – but the huge fines that a company pays hardly ever come back to the consumer. Or you can turn to the ICC and Emun Hatzibur (Emun, for short) with complaints, and they will do their best to solve the problem.
Like the Israel Consumer Council, Emun receives complaints from consumers (over 20,000 a year), and does its best to help you get what you deserve. Two differences however: you can file a complaint with Emun in just about any language (the ICC requires you to do so in Hebrew) and you can call them on the phone for advice (the ICC sends you to their – Hebrew – blogs and web site, if you get them on the phone). According to Idit Harel-Shemesh, Emun’s communications director, about 60% of complaints to Emun result in the consumer getting his money back, with another 15% partially satisfied.
Recently I met with Harel-Shemesh and Ophra Levy, legal counselor and assistant to Emun’s general manager, to learn what rights we have when we want to cancel a transaction. I learned that most transactions – ongoing or one-time transactions – can be canceled within 14 days without giving a reason (for the laws on returning goods please see my column on the subject, Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2016). The cancellation does not hold for special orders, and must take place at least seven days before the course, vacation, etc. was to begin. Many businesses will charge a small fee for cancellng, even within the 14 days. The fee, by law, is generally 5% of the transaction, or NIS 100, whichever is lowest.
However, this holds true only during the first 14 days. After that time, if the company has a posted cancellation fee that is higher, you must abide by this.
This is why you absolutely must ask the terms of cancellation before giving up your agreement/credit card! These terms should be on your contract, but can sometimes be found on receipts or work orders. Terms that are ridiculous, or hidden at the end of a five-page internet advertisement are not reasonable. Courts expect terms to be reasonable. If they are not, the law is on your side.
Many phone transactions are recorded by the company taking your credit card. Always ask if you are being recorded, so that in a dispute you can require a copy of the conversation. You have the legal right, says Levy, to hear that recording – even if the company says you do not.
New immigrants who have been here less than five years, people over the age of 65, and people with certain disabilities have four months to cancel a remote sale transaction (where the parties have not met come face to face) and a transaction by peddlers (who approach you) under the same terms of 5% fee or NIS 100). This goes for any transaction in which there has been at least one telephone conversation between the consumer and the company.
Exceptions: financial institutions like banks, insurance companies, credit card companies.
Should the company refuse to cancel, or you have been tricked or cheated by the company, for instance if you were promised a “gift” and then charged for it, never received your contract, or were misled about its terms, you can send a complaint to Emun or to the ICC, or, alternatively, send the company a letter threatening court. This often gets you the desired cancellation. If none of this works, going to court often will. Judges do not like businesses that put unreasonable pressure on customers. If you have been bombarded with phone calls by marketers speaking incredibly fast in Hebrew and agreed because you didn’t understand, that is considered undue pressure.
IF YOU buy from an Internet site, remember that Israeli consumer rights do not hold true for companies that are located abroad. You will know if it is an Israeli company because our laws specify that these must post a telephone number, address and business number (called het peh in Hebrew) on their website. Even if you are buying directly on the site, make sure there is a person on the other side of the phone before you click “submit.” Look for cancellation terms on the site or ask to see them before you buy.
One consumer who made a purchase from a “company” that imported vitamins was unable to find its Israeli address, the name or phone number of the owner, or even if the company existed except online – which is where he made his purchase with a Visa card. And the only information that Visa had to offer was a number for a phone that was disconnected!
Levy stresses that all kinds of specific situations have given rise to specific laws. For instance, Internet companies that market courses often claim that you cannot cancel because you received course material which, they say, can be copied. But there have been recent precedents along with new regulations to keep up with the times. So if you registered for a course, received material via the Internet (not material handed to you in a frontal transaction), but want to cancel, you may win in court should the company refuse your request. Of course, it is wise to cancel before you have used any of the material.
Some consumer issues and cancellation terms that are not covered under consumer laws are covered under contract law. For instance, if a clause in your contract states that the company is not responsible for its product, this would fall under contract law as unreasonable. So does the subject of items which were supposed to be gifts – but for which you were charged. This is misrepresentation under contract law, and grounds for court action.
Special orders for furniture can present problems, notes Levy. Here you have three days to cancel your order, beginning either on the day of your order or on the day that measurements were taken. This is based on the assumption that work will not have begun during those first three days.
Other situations include issues with long-term medical treatment, psychometric courses (which are a special case), health clubs, emergency buttons, and more. If you are unsure about your rights, contact one of Jerusalem’s free “mitzui zchuyot” (Obtaining your Rights) organizations (find out the number of the one closest to you by calling *118), the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (02 6297221/7227) or Emun Hatzibur, Sunday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.. You can also try looking on internet at Kol Zchut, which has an English site that deals with some issues: www.kolzchut.org.il/en/Main_Page.
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