Refugees and migrants are being taken for a ride by unscrupulous phone plan sales people.
But UWA staff and students are coming to their rescue.
Associate Professor Eileen Webb, from the Law School's Centre for Consumer Research, and graduate Law student Alicia Snyders are working with the Edmund Rice Centre in Mirrabooka to try to find a solution to the escalating problem.
"Certain telecommunications providers are targeting refugees and recent migrants," said Alicia. "Salespeople have engaged in high pressure sales tactics and taken advantage of language difficulties and an understandable lack of knowledge about the legal system."
"At least 20 people we know of have been induced into signing contracts and then found themselves with huge bills to pay," A/Professor Webb said. "We guess there are many more.
"We are investigating and gathering more information in the hope of possibly establishing new legislation under consumer protection laws," she said.
Alicia volunteered at the centre, which helps refugees and migrants to settle in Perth. "The centre's director, Joe Moniodis, had discovered the problem and they asked if I could work on it with him," she said.
A/Professor Webb and Alicia have no funding for their research but are doing the work "because it needs to be done."
They describe the number of complaints as alarming. They are not just about the sales tactics but the difficulties encountered by the refugees and migrants when they try to resolve their grievances.
"Refugees and migrants have been signed on to telecommunications packages with little or no explanation of contractual obligations, connection fees, call rates, download limits and additional charges for unnecessary services such as voicemail and mobile internet," Alicia said. "Some have received bills for more than $1,000 after being told charges would amount to no more than $49 a month."
She is circulating a letter and a flyer around Mirrabooka and surrounding areas, asking for other people to come forward with their stories.
"We want to empower and offer support for these consumers whose voices repeatedly fail to be heard," she said.
A/Professor Webb said they hoped to make a list of recommendations to be given to telecommunications providers and work out a solution to the current problem, while looking forward to possible new legislation that would protect vulnerable people from unscrupulous sales techniques.
Published in UWA News, 26 July 2010