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HEARD ON THE BEAT / CONSUMER ISSUES

Tracking E-Commerce Across Borders

May 26, 1999|ROBIN FIELDS | Robin Fields covers consumer issues for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7810 and at robin.fields@latimes.com

Talk of electronic commerce dominated the National Consumers League 1999 Summit in Washington last week.

Internet shopping and financial transactions increasingly cross national borders, often without consumers realizing it.

Regulators acknowledged that the global marketplace poses new challenges in enforcing consumer protections.

"Which country's laws apply when transactions cross borders?" asked Pastor Herrera Jr., director of the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. "How can consumers figure out what their rights are?"

Herrera, a consumers league board member, returned from the conference determined to track how many local complaints involved international transactions and to assemble a tip sheet for prudent online buying.

Nationally, online auctions topped the NCL's annual list of sources of consumer complaints, shoving aside perennials such as sweepstakes and work-at-home schemes.

"It was the first time we received a substantial number of complaints from people who had bought overseas and didn't know what to do when there were problems with the merchandise," league spokeswoman Cleo Manuel said.

Of course, some consumer gripes--thankfully--remain local, not global, in nature.

Among the top concerns of the South Pacific Consumer Protection Programme: the dumping of mutton flaps, a high-fat, low-quality meat, onto local markets by Australia and New Zealand.

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