BICMA finds publisher liable in placing scam ad

Media: In relation to a scam placed in Tashi Delek, the inflight magazine for the national airline Drukair, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has found publisher Bhutan Observer liable for the losses suffered by three people who responded to the advertisement.

A couple and a relative of theirs spent around Nu 122,850 or USD 1,950 on four smart phones they never received. They had responded to a scam ad placed by an establishment called the Phone Shop, a business registered in Australia, in the March-April 2015 issue announcing a buy three get one free scheme.

One of the scammed had complained to BICMA which investigated the issue.

In a letter to this newspaper, BICMA pointed out that the publisher had not placed the advertisement with “responsibility and caution” and that it had not made a reasonable effort to establish the authenticity of the advertiser. The authority added that vital information had not been reviewed and verified.

BICMA also pointed out that the publication process was flawed beginning with the requirement of a 50 percent advance payment to place the ad, followed by the lack of a sufficient follow up process.

The authority also said that a disclaimer in the magazine that says views published in Tashi Delek are not that of Drukair’s or Bhutan Observer’s, and that neither are responsible for the financial standing or any other particulars of the firms mentioned, does not protect the publisher.

The authority refers to the Bhutan Information, Communications, and Media Act 2006, rules on content that requires the publisher to prepare its media content with a sense of responsibility to its consumers.

BICMA states that it is the responsibility of the publisher to identify the advertiser or take full liability for the loss of the complainant.

Bhutan Observer (BO) CEO, Phuntsho Wangmo said that she did not agree with BICMA’s findings. She said that email correspondence between BO and the advertiser prior to publication of the ad has been provided to BICMA and that it should show that normal procedure was followed. She added that the same procedure has been followed for the past nine years.

On the flawed publication process and 50 percent advance payment, Phuntsho Wangmo said that usually advertisers only want to pay the full cost after the ad is published and that the 50 percent requirement is optional or flexible. “Upfront payment is hardly done,” she said, adding that this is a common practise among publishing houses.

Phuntsho Wangmo also said that the disclaimer is used because it is not possible for BO to verify every company or product being advertised. “That verification is not possible,” she said. However, she added that whether the disclaimer is effective is still a question.

This is the first time BO has faced such a situation in its nine years of existence, said Phuntsho Wangmo. The company has not received payment for the ad. “So we’re also a victim of this scam, as much as the other person is,” she said.

BO will consider BICMA’s findings and respond to the authority, Phuntsho Wangmo said.

The buyers transferred USD 1,950 to a Barclay’s Bank UK account belonging to a John Dada, through a friend in South Korea on May 4. On May 7, the buyers received an email saying that there had been a mistake in the shipment and instead of four phones, 50 had been sent instead. The sellers said that the entire cost was coming to USD 30,200 but the buyers could have it at a discounted price of USD 20,000.

After phone calls were exchanged, the sellers asked the buyers to deposit 40 percent of the payment first, and that the remaining costs could be paid later.

When the buyers asked that either their four phones be delivered or they be refunded, all contact from the sellers ceased.

BO has not been able to contact the Phone Shop as well so far.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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