2.3.2. Vulnerable Consumers - criteria

As provided for in Article 5(3) of the Directive, vulnerable consumers are those more exposed to a commercial practice or a product because of their (a) mental or physical infirmity, (b) age or (c) credulity.

The reasons mentioned by Article 5 as the basis to establish the vulnerability of a specific category of consumers are listed indicatively and cover a wide range of situations.

(a) infirmity (mental or physical): this includes sensory impairment, limited mobility and other disabilities. For example, consumers who need to use wheelchairs might be a vulnerable group in relation to advertising claims about ease of access to a holiday destination or entertainment venue, or those with a hearing impairment may be a particularly vulnerable group in relation to advertising claims about 'hearing aid compatibility' in a telephone advertisement.

(b) age: it may be appropriate to consider a practice from the perspective of an older or younger consumer.

Consumers who may be more vulnerable to certain practices because of their age are elderly people. Aggressive door-to-door selling methods is an example of a practice which may not affect the average consumer but which is likely to intimidate a certain group of consumers, in particular the elderly, who may be vulnerable to pressure selling. The Dutch and German enforcement authorities have also reported the practice of "bus trips" organised by traders to market their products during the trip, which are particularly attractive to elderly people because of their entertaining nature. The elderly might also be particularly vulnerable to practices connected to certain products, such as burglar alarms.

Children might be particularly vulnerable to advertisements about videogames. Despite the fact that a substantial part of the target audience is constituted by adults, a trader could reasonably foresee that such advertisements may have an impact on a vulnerable category of consumers such as children. For example, the compatibility of a videogame with a specific device may be sufficiently clear to an adult consumer but, due to the way the information is provided, it may still confuse children[48].

Teenagers represent another category of consumers who are often targeted by rogue traders. An example of this is promoting products which are particularly appealing to teenagers in a way which exploits their lack of attention or reflection due to their immaturity. For example, an advertisement for mobile phone services conveying the message that by subscribing to a particular loyalty plan you can easily make and maintain friends is likely to be taken more literally by teenagers.

(c) credulity: this covers groups of consumers who may more readily believe specific claims. The term is neutral, so the effect is to protect members of a group who are for any reason open to be influenced by certain claims. An example might be members of a group who, because of particular circumstances, might believe certain claims more readily than others.

A dishonest trader may sell winning lottery number on his website which is open to the general public, although he knows that only the credulous consumers will be attracted to his site and lured into the scam.

Footnotes

[48] Please note that pursuant to Directive 89/552/EC as amended by Directive 2007/65/EC, audiovisual commercial communications shall not cause physical or moral detriment to minors and therefore shall not, inter alia, directly exhort minors to buy or hire a product or service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity, exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons, directly encourage minors to persuade parents or others to purchase the goods or services advertised.

Links to articles of the Directive

Keywords