By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

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Consumers have been alerted to the risks of consuming imported frozen fruit. Authorities have named brands of frozen fruit products which have been imported from China. There are 2 main issues – firstly the level of scrutiny applied to imported foreign produce. No routine testing is carried out for microbiological agents such as salmonella, hepatitis or E coli on imported vegetables and fruits. The Department of Agriculture admitted just 5 out of every 100 consignments is checked for risks to human health. Food items that pose a “medium” or “high” risk to human health are tested at a rate of 100% until a good compliance history is established. They are then tested at a rate of 25% of consignments, dropping to a minimum of 5% for continued compliance. The berries grown for two of the brands originated from the Shandong province where agriculture co-exists with chemical plants and water pollution and ground pollution.

Secondly we need clear information to comprehend the labelling of all imported foods – details of the actual country of origin, the ingredients used. Some importers bring the goods to New Zealand, then sell the products in Australia as being sourced from across the Tasman. Every time lone voices in the Federal Parliament try for more informative labelling, they have been defeated by the powerful food retail lobby.

Frozen vegetable mixes, seafood, seeds are among products grown and processed overseas – the source of origin is not always clear. Fish caught in the Atlantic Ocean by South Korean trawlers, processed in China and N.Z. are being marketed as “Made in Australia” because they are repackaged here (the transformation rules the act of repacking, labour involved as more than 51% the “Made in Australia” could apply.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce made a pledge at the “crisis meeting of health, agriculture and industry chiefs” promising new simple food labelling that clearly states the country where the product was grown. A total review of border testing of imported frozen produce for contaminants is being discussed.

Telstra has had to pay a $102,000 penalty after the ACCC accused the telco for misrepresentations made in advertising its iPhone6 offering. An advertisement in September 2014 ran an image of the new iPhone6 and highlighted a plan that cost $70 only to disclose in some rater fine print that customers had to pay an extra $11 a month for the phone. According to the ACCC this contravened the Australian consumer Law (ACL). Businesses must be careful about using attention grabbing ads – that they do not mislead the customers about the actual price they will have to pay. This is especially the case for bundled goods and services like phones and plans.

Mobile Muster and the Salvation Army have teamed together for Old Phones for Good – a campaign urging consumers to recycle their old phones. Hand-sets left in drawers and boxes should be recycled to help reduce the problem of e-waste and allows precious metals to be re-used. The Mobile Muster has recycled and diverted more than 1010 tonnes of old mobiles and accessories from landfill in 15 years of operation.

Research has revealed that almost half of all Australians travelling overseas choose to leave their phones at home due to the fear of “bill shock”. Consider buying a SIM Card on arrival at your destination or a pre-paid roaming SIM card before you go. If planning to use global roaming with your usual provider make sure to turn off voice mail and check how much the cost is to make and receive calls, send and receive text and picture messages and to use data.

Consumer advocate Choice has warned that millions of dollars are being squandered on gift cards that are not used before the expiry date. Shoppers should check the terms and conditions before buying these cards. Time limits vary from 3 months to Bunnings with no expiry limit, Coles and Myer – 2years, Woolworths–12 months plus a grace period.

Hi-tech readers skim ATM Cards. Protect yourself by checking that there is nothing suspicious about the ATM, if suspicion is raised, do not use it and alert the ATM owner. Any card skimming scam should be reported to Police, Crime Stoppers. Check your bank account and credit card statements – any unexplained transactions should be reported to the bank or credit union. Only use cards on secure online sites.

Many of us have received an email or letter offering to share in a large sum of money by sending bank account details. Delete all suspicious and unsolicited emails – never send your personal card or online accounts through email. Seek professional advice if tempted.

Protect yourself from Identity Thieft – which may be used to open bank accounts, take out loans and conduct illegal transactions. Shred all documents containing personal information, log directly on to web-sites rather than clicking on links provided in an email, never send money or give personal details to people you don’t know or trust.

Consumers can be lured into paying more than they expect when shopping online through a trend known as “drip pricing”. From airlines, hotels, concert tickets and car hire the practice of promoting one price but then charging you with extra costs is growing. The ACCC has been targeting “drip pricing” and is warning people to be vigilant. These extra charges can include booking fees, postage, insurance, luggage and choosing a seat on a plane. Online shoppers should watch out for pre-selected “tick boxes” that may automatically add insurance and other services not required.

Extended warranties on purchased white goods are more often than not unnecessary and costly. Choice has been campaigning to increase consumer awareness about extended warranties for years. Before you commit to buying an expensive extended warranty, ask the sales person how the warranty provides protection beyond what the Australian Consumer Law already provides. Make sure you read the fine print.

More than 22,000 car seat covers sold by K Mart were recalled across Australia as they can prevent side airbags from being deployed.

Concrete cancer has been found in high rise walls, balconies, walkways and underground car parks. Those worst hit are buildings constructed in the 1960, 70s and early 80s. the cost of repair to some buildings was greater than the value of the building – they face demolition.

Concrete cracks when the steel embedded in it rusts and take us to 3 times the original volume, exposing more reinforcing steel and concrete to the elements. Slight rust stains coming out on concrete surfaces are often the first sign of “splalling” or concrete cancer.

Asbestos test results released recently show no increased health risk for people living near the old Wunderlich factory in Brisbane, but residents still harbour fears.

Corporate giants are pumping millions of dollars into schools to make their brands part of student education. Technology behemoths such as Telstra, Google, Microsoft are entering into arrangements with schools. Other large corporations such as National Bank, Coles, Bunnings and McDonalds have invested in major school programs. Woolworths petrol has sponsored youth road safety program “streetsmart”. Coles delivered sports equipment valued at more than 10 million to 7500 schools across the nation. Globally, Microsoft is spending 500 million over 10 years on a schools technology programs. Australia snared a 20% share. Bunnings is involved in numerous activities with schools including store visits, school yard makeovers, and do-it-yourself workshops. The hardware chains School Sustainability Program is aimed at increasing awareness of energy and water saving, recycling and highlights simple easy ways to make a difference to the environment.

Unilver Australia is teamed up with education charity Learning Links to develop and run a program designed to help primary school children to become better readers.

A study on the effects of reading light-emitting devices in darkness before bed time found that e-readers took longer to fall asleep, had lower quality of sleep and were less alert in the morning compared to those who read printed books. The blue light is known to suppress the production of melatonin disrupting circadian rhythms.

A company, Chrisco is being taken to court by the ACCC because an unfair contract term in its 2014 lay-by agreements to continue debiting customers’ accounts even after they had fully paid for their Christmas hampers, required them to “opt out” to avoid these payments. Lay-by termination charges also exceeded Chrisco’s reasonable costs and did not deliver on price or hamper contents, costing consumer over 20% more than buying identical items online from Coles and Woolworths, including delivery

From January 1, 2015 the deeming rules used to assess income from financial investments for social security and Veterans’ Affairs pensions and allowances have been extended to include superannuation account-based income streams. If changes were made to a new product since 01 January 2015 the new product will be assessed under the new rules. For more information visit the website and down load the deeming booklet www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/seniors/benefits-payments/age-pension. Email questions to: deeming@dss.gov.au

Adviser Report NCWQ Consumer Affairs Feb 2015

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