DTI seeks law regulating online selling

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DTI says it wants a law that would focus specifically on online transactions. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — As sales of online stores skyrocket due to big discounts on specific dates such as 12.12 (December 12) and 11.11 (November 11), the Trade Department said it continues to seek a law to regulate online transactions. This is to protect buyers from purchasing fraudulent products and from other mishaps, an official said Thursday.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said the DTI is working on an "e-commerce roadmap" which seeks to create a department which will oversee merchants and stores selling products online, but a new law is still needed for this.

"Right now, the Consumer Act does not make a distinction between a brick-and-mortar store and an online store, and we want a specifc law saying all online transactions shall be handled by this particular department," Castelo told CNN Philippines' On the Record. "I think it's going to be clearer if there is going to be a law only for online transactions."

Castelo said the agency encounters multiple complaints from online buyers such as deliveries of wrong products, false advertising where the product is not the same as the one on the site and fake products. She added that they find trouble regulating those who sell fake products since these sellers are difficult to trace.

"We see them online. Those selling fake products are the ones (that are) fly by night — now you see them now you don't — it's more difficult for us to regulate them," she said.

"We always warn them (online stores) against selling fake products. These are the products that are copies and that actually violate intellectual property law, so we discourage that but that is why we really need a law to be able to control all that," Castelo added.

Existing E-Consumer Protection Guidelines under the E-Commerce Act mandate minimum requirements such as a privacy policy and seller and product information. However, there is still a "lack of an established online process" in handling complaints on online transactions, according to the DTI website.

Consumers who face trouble with online transactions may raise their concern to the DTI, Castelo said. Sellers that hold fraudulent transactions may be fined 5,000 to two million pesos.

In the 17th Congress, Valenzuela City 1st District Rep. Wes Gatchalian pushed for a bill seeking to create an "e-commerce bureau" that will facilitate domestic and international dealings in electronic platforms. Castelo said the DTI supports this bill.

Ensuring authenticity

For frequent online shoppers, the common practice to ensure the authenticity of products sold online, is reading reviews of the sellers from fellow buyers.

"Natuto ako na dapat talaga titingnan 'yung mga reviews ng mga past na bumili," shared online shopper Mariz Reyes.

[Translation: I learned that we really need to look at the reviews of those who have bought from the seller in the past.]

Reyes said there were times where the products that were delivered to her looked different from the items she ordered. She also experienced incomplete deliveries.

Castelo urged buyers to always check the sellers' background. She said consumers should also be wary of online stores that only offer cash-on-delivery and bank deposit payment options because these may be among the fly-by-night sellers.

"Usually...these are fly-by-night sellers that are not given credit records or credit standings by financing institutions, so it's best if they check the reputation and background of the seller before they buy," she said.

Castelo added that consumers can also ensure that the websites they visit are secure by checking if the web addresses have "https" or the lock icon.