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June 2022

Restaurants cannot add a service charge to food bills: Goyal

New Delhi, 3 June, 2022: Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Piyush Goyal on Friday said that restaurants cannot add service charges to food bills at their discretion and that the choice of paying tips lies with consumers. He added that restaurant owners are free to hike the prices of their food menu to be able to pay higher salaries to their employees. Restaurant industry bodies have been arguing that the amount collected through service charges is meant for the benefit of the staff. “You (restaurants) cannot just add a service charge on a bill… If you feel that some more benefits are to be given to employees, it cannot be forced on customers. You can raise prices to give hikes, “Goyal said in an interaction with the media on Thursday. He added that the Department of Consumer Affairs has been getting complaints from consumers against service charges levied by restaurants and hotels on the National Consumer Helpline. ‘No price controls’ He added that restaurants can hike salaries of employees’ and increase the rates of their menus as there are no price controls. “ You are free to give raises to employees and increase rates. But if there is a hidden cost, how will the people (consumers) know the real price? “he said. Terming service charges as an “unfair trade practice”, the Department of Consumer Affairs said that it will be coming up with a “robust framework” to protect consumer interests. This statement came after DoCA met with restaurant industry stakeholders to discuss various issues related to service charges. This include issues such as compulsory levy of service charges, adding the charge by default without the express consent of the consumer, suppressing that such a charge is optional and voluntary, and embarrassing consumers if they resist paying such a charge. Source: Thehindubusinessline.com

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Connected car apps stealing your data without consent, warn experts

Third-party smartphone apps for connected cars belonging to top brands like Tesla, Nissan, Renault, Ford, and Volkswagen are using the vehicle owners’ credentials without asking for their consent, a new report claimed on Friday. On top of this, one in five of applications have no contact information, which makes it impossible to report a problem, according to Kaspersky’s ‘Connected Apps’ report which analysed 69 popular third-party mobile apps designed to control connected cars. “The benefits of a connected world are countless. However, it is important to note that this is still a developing industry, which carries certain risks,” said Sergey Zorin, Head of Kaspersky Transportation Security. “Unfortunately, not all developers take a responsible approach when it comes to data storage and collection, which results in users exposing their personal information. This data may further be sold on the dark web and end up in untrustful hands,” he warned. Cybercriminals might not only steal your data and personal credentials but also gain access to your vehicle – and that might lead to physical threats. Connected automotive applications allow users to remotely control their vehicles by locking or unlocking the doors, adjusting climate control, starting and stopping the engine, etc. Even though most car manufacturers have their own legitimate applications for the cars they make, third-party apps designed by mobile developers are also very popular among users as they may offer unique features that have not yet been introduced by the vehicle manufacturer. The third-party applications analysed by Kaspersky cover almost all major vehicle brands, with Tesla, Nissan, Renault, Ford and Volkswagen in the top-5 cars most often controlled by such apps. “However, these applications are not entirely safe to use,” claim Kaspersky researchers. They found that more than half of the applications don’t warn about the risks of using the owner’s account from the original automaker’s service. Moreover, every fifth application does not have information on how to contact the developer or give feedback, making it impossible to report a problem or request more information on the app’s privacy policy. “It is also worth noting that 46 of the 69 applications are either free of charge or offer a demo mode. This has contributed to such applications being downloaded from the Google Play Store more than 239,000 times, which makes you wonder how many people are giving strangers free access to their cars,” the report mentioned. Source: IANS

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Fraud Alert: Believing in Profile Photo Cost Rs28 Lakh; Loan App Menace Continues

A significant difference between the real-world and technology-enabled virtual world is that things are not what we expect or want them to be. Especially when you are on social media, not everyone you come across may be a real person and therein lies the big danger. The trust factor should be factored out in the virtual world, or each experience there will end up as a hard lesson. Consider this example of an official who transferred Rs29 lakh to someone who had used the profile photo of a company’s managing director (MD) on WhatsApp. Believing in WhatsApp Profile Photo Cost Rs28 Lakh! The cybercrime department of the Bengaluru police is searching for a person who posed as the managing director (MD) of a private company and hoodwinked its human resources (HR) manager into transferring Rs28.8 lakh online. In his complaint, Nirmal Jain, who owns the company, has said that the fraudster sent a WhatsApp message to Thirupathi Rao, the HR manager, claiming to be Paras Jain, the MD. “The WhatsApp profile contained the MD’s photograph and the message said that it was his personal number and that he was in a meeting and was not to be disturbed. The person then asked Mr Rao to transfer money to three bank accounts online on an emergency basis. Mr Rao carried out the instructions and transferred Rs28,89,807 to the private bank account numbers mentioned in the message. The fraud came to light when he informed the senior officials about the transactions,” says a report from The Hindu. This incident raises many questions about whose money was transferred and the gullibility of the HR manager but highlights why profile photos posted on social media, and even WhatsApp numbers, may be fake. Ideally, if you receive threats or requests from unknown numbers,  you can report the person and block the number on WhatsApp. We are relatively lucky in India that the deepfakes are not yet duping people in a serious way. Deepfakes use existing image or video and replace them with someone else’s likeness using artificial neural networks to create an alternative and unreal episode. Deepfake audio, or even video, can be used for calling gullible users and requesting them to transfer funds, or to accompany strangers by faking an emergency. This is more like a sophisticated version of hacking into email accounts and seeking funds from friends and acquaintances of the user through ’emergency’ emails. (Read: How To Protect Your Digital Life in 2020, Especially from Deepfakes) Calling an unknown sender can sometimes clarify things, but there is also a danger that you may be further duped by smooth talk. Being vigilant and verifying who you engage with is imperative. Fake Chopper Ride for ‘Char Dham Yatra’! Even as the tourism industry is trying hard to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, scamsters are finding new opportunities to dupe travellers. Over a dozen people have been fooled by a fake website that offered a chopper ride for ‘Char Dham Yatra’ in Uttarakhand. In the past month alone, there have been five cases reported to Lucknow cyber cell and 10 at Uttar Pradesh (UP) cyber police. According to one such victim, she paid Rs50,000 for a helicopter ride to the places of pilgrimage, but she and her family members were not allowed to board the copter in Dehradun. The tickets that she had ‘booked’ were fake! She had booked them from a person claiming to be an agent of Pawan Hans Ltd from Dehradun. The scamster took copies of the family’s Aadhaar, passport and COVID-19 vaccination certificates and collected Rs50,000 for the tickets. He then sent tickets for the helicopter ride on WhatsApp, but they turned out to be fake. The important lesson here is not to use the services of an unknown third party without verification. And as far as the Char Dham Yatra is concerned, there is an authorised helicopter service provided by the tourism department. Manipulation of International Calls Using Local SIMs The Karnataka police have busted a gang with the arrest of its six members on charges of converting international calls from Middle-East countries to local calls, causing loss to the state exchequer. The police have seized 16 SIM box devices, two trunk call devices for session initiation protocol (SIP), nine primary rate interface (PRI) devices, five laptops, six routers, and 205 BSNL SIM cards used to convert international calls into local calls. SIP trunks are basically virtual phone lines that enable users to make and receive phone calls over the internet to anyone in the world with a phone number. Without going into technical details, the worrying aspect of this fraud is the number of SIMs obtained and used by the gang. They bought BSNL SIM cards from UP, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and other states. With a copy of Aadhaar, it has become relatively easy to get a SIM card from a vendor. And when Aadhaar is used, know-your-customer (KYC) checks followed by the mobile service providers are minimal. Many fraudster gangs buy SIMs in bulk mostly using Aadhaar copies obtained from several paid sources. In most cases, people whose Aadhaar is used to buy the SIM are clueless and know about this only when the police reach their homes. Remember Mumbai-based Ameya Dhapre and how his life has been turned upside-down ever since someone posted a copy of his Aadhaar on the web? Do read about it here Aadhaar Nightmares Coming True. How Ameya Dhapre Is Enduring ‘Living Hell’ with His Aadhaar: Report Loan Apps Continue to Harass Borrowers When the borrower uses a shortcut while borrowing money from lenders, it is bound to have consequences. It is best explained by the issues created by loan apps that provide the small loan in easy ways. However, the borrower often fails to note the higher interest rates and harassment that follows in case of even a single default in repayment. Loan apps access a borrower’s phone and siphon up contacts, photos, text messages, and even documents stored. Mumbai

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Electricity Safety Is Tragically Falling Through Governance Gaps

Over the years, there has been a big increase in the number of accidents related to electricity in absolute and per capita terms. Consumers from rural areas are major victims of these accidents, primarily caused due to contact with conductors in the distribution system or at non-industrial consumer locations. Poor design, sub-standard construction, poor maintenance and lack of safety awareness contribute to the increase of accidents, finds a discussion paper published by Pune-based energy group Prayas. Sreekumar Nhalur, the author of the paper, says, “Since most accidents occur in the distribution system, distribution companies (DISCOMs) have the highest role to play in reducing accidents. But for them, improving financial health, reducing energy losses and providing reliable power to consumers is a higher priority. Safety is not high in their performance metric. National policies or initiatives do not currently have any safety components. Therefore, electricity safety is tragically slipping through governance gaps.” According to the paper, accident reduction requires technical and management measures over a period of many years. It says, “Specific safety initiatives by the central government, increased priority to safety by distribution companies, strengthening the role of state electrical inspectorates, proactive efforts by electricity regulators to ensure implementation of safety measures and building safety awareness in the general public are crucial if accidents have to be reduced.” “The Central Electricity Authority of India (CEA), some utilities, State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERCs), professional organisations and consumer organisations have initiated small steps to reduce accidents, but these need to be significantly strengthened. Only concerted efforts by all sector actors over a period of few years can reverse the trend and bring down the number and rate of accidents,” Mr Nhalur says. The major immediate cause of accidents is contact with live conductors, the discussion paper points out, adding, “Root causes include low priority to safety, bad design, poor maintenance, unauthorised repair, bad quality earthing, and inadequate protection systems. Addressing the root causes requires an understanding of the safety governance structure and identifying the gaps.” As per the 2020 Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report, 15,258 people died from electrical shocks and fires between January and December. CEA reports 7,717 fatal human accidents in FY19-20. Fatalities per 100,000 population, also called as fatality rate, is the most used parameter to compare different accident causes or geographies. In India, the fatality rate has been increasing over the years and is a little above 1, as per ADSI data and around 0.6 as per CEA data in 2020. Mr Nhalur writes, “The numbers are vastly different, perhaps due to data collection and reporting issues, which is an area of major concern. Whatever be the actual numbers, a worrying trend is that the number of accidents and also accidents normalised with parameters like population, number of consumers or energy handled, have been steadily increasing over the years.” Electricity systems up to the point of supply (generation, transmission and distribution) or end-use (consumer premises), can cause electric shocks (also called electrocution) and fires due to electrical faults. These, in turn, lead to human or animal injuries, deaths, and appliance or property damage.  The discussion paper “Electricity safety: Tragically falling through the governance gaps” also points out that most of the electrical accidents in India happen in rural areas and affect the public. “They occur mostly in the distribution system or at non-industrial consumer locations. Therefore, accident reduction is a public challenge and efforts should focus on rural areas and distribution systems.” A state-wise analysis of accidents indicates that 85% of the accidents occur in 11 states, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. Within the states, there is variation in the number of accidents based on consumer-mix, state of maintenance of the distribution network, climatic conditions and safety awareness. According to the paper, electricity safety is a public interest challenge which can be met only through coordinated action involving all sector actors. “There is scope to improve the current safety regulations. But the implementation of the current safety regulatory regime can be significantly tightened through better data collection, introducing safety aspects in national programs, strengthening safety institutions, developing safety metrics for DISCOMs, involving public and professionals in safety initiatives and utilising technological innovations.” “The need of the hour is a concrete accident reduction program in the distribution sector, with a clear scope of work, sufficient resource allocation and robust monitoring and verification mechanism. Only this can ensure that our electricity supply is not only universal, affordable and good quality but also safe,” it concludes. Source: Moneylife

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After 3,000 consumer complaints, Union govt asks Swiggy, Zomato to furnish resolution framework

After getting more than 3,500 grievances against Swiggy and Zomato on its consumer helpline, the Department of Consumer Affairs on Monday directed the two major e-commerce food business operators (FBOs) to furnish, within 15 days, ways to better address those problems. The e-commerce FBOs were also directed by the Department to transparently show consumers the breakup of all charges included in the order amount such as delivery charges, packaging charges, taxes, surge pricing etc. The direction to furnish the current framework as well as a proposal on improving the consumer grievance redressal mechanism within 15 days was given during a meeting chaired by Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Rohit Kumar Singh with the major e-commerce food business operators, to discuss pertinent issues which affect consumers in this sector. The meeting was informed that during the last 12 months, over 3,631 grievances were registered on the National Consumer Helpline (1915) against Swiggy and 2,828 against Zomato. For Swiggy, it included the maximum 22 per cent for deficiency in services (803 complaints), followed by 17 per cent for non/delay in delivery of products (628 complaints) along with delivery of defective/damaged product (456 complaints or 13 per cent), delivery of wrong products (401 complaints), paid amount not refunded (391 complaints), product/product accessories missing (240 complaints), charging more than MRP (213 complaints), and non-veg food delivered instead of veg and vice versa (105 complaints). For Zomato, deficiency in services topped the list too at 25 per cent (707 complaints) followed 18 per cent for delivery of defective/damaged product (499 complaints) along with non/delay in delivery of product (319 complaints), paid amount not refunded (307 complaints), and delivery of wrong products (298 complaints). All these major issues raised by the consumers on the National Consumer Helpline were discussed. It also included inconsistency in the delivery time shown to consumers at the time of placing an order and the time at which the order is actually delivered, and absence of any mechanism to separate genuine reviews from fake ones. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) raised the issue of customer information not being shared by the e-commerce FBOs with the restaurants, which impacts their ability to serve the consumer needs better. “Further, delivery charges are determined and levied by the latter. Further, a commission of around 20 per cent is also charged by the online FBOs on each order,” it said. “Platforms must also show individual consumer reviews transparently and refrain from showing only the aggregation of reviews. The right of choice for a consumer should be respected and the e-commerce FBOs were advised to allow consumers the choice to share their contact information with the restaurants, if the consumers want so,” the government said. The e-commerce FBOs observed that prices of food items are decided by the restaurants and they have a grievance redressal mechanism in place which does have a scope for improvement considering the number and nature of grievances registered by the consumers, a government statement said.  Source: IANS

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Consumer Courts Can Impose Cost on Parties on Adjournments: Govt

To ensure speedy redressal of consumer complaints, the department of consumer affairs on Friday asked registrars and presidents of national, state, and district commissions not to grant adjournment for more than one month to ensure adhering to the timelines provided under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. In case of any delay in resolving the complaints beyond two months, due to adjournment requests, the commission may consider imposing costs on parties, it said. In his letter, consumer affairs secretary, Rohit Kumar Singh emphasised on inexpensive, hassle-free and speedy justice to the consumers. “Frequent and long adjournments not only denies a consumer his right to be heard and seek redressal, but also takes away the spirit of enactment which the legislature intended. Therefore, Consumer Commissions are requested to ensure that in no circumstance adjournment for a long period is provided. Further, in case of more than two requests of adjournment by either parties, Consumer Commissions may, as a measure of deterrence, impose costs on parties,” he wrote. Drawing attention of the consumer commissions on the procedure on admission of a complaint as provided under Section 38(7) of the Act, he said that every complaint is required to be disposed of as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of three months from the date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities, and within five months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities. Further, it said that the Act also stipulates that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted by consumer commissions, unless sufficient cause is shown and the reasons for grant of adjournment have been recorded in writing. The commissions are also empowered to make such orders as to the costs occasioned by the adjournment. The department has also written to the chief secretaries of all states/UTs and all consumer commissions laying stress on encouraging consumers to file their complaints through the e-daakhil portal. Source: IANS

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