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Commission seeks to empower consumers to nullify dodgy contracts

An expert panel of the Cabinet Office's Consumer Commission finalized a report on Aug. 4 that pushes for consumers to be able to nullify deceptive contracts solicited using fear or through false promises of romance.

    The panel will shortly submit the report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of a proposed amendment to the Consumer Contract Act. It is expected that the proposal will be discussed along with other suggestions, such as lowering the age of adulthood set under the Civil Code, during the extraordinary Diet session in autumn.

    The expert panel has been reviewing the Consumer Contract Act since 2014, in light of the increasing number of senior citizens being tricked by fraudulent scams and the ongoing debate over the age of adulthood. Its latest report extends to contracts solicited through fear and through false promises of romance, and pushes to enable consumers to nullify such contracts without too much difficulty. Included are contracts where consumers are intimidated into going to job-hunting seminars with phrases such as, "If you don't attend, you'll never succeed in life," or where they are tricked into romantic relationships that could realistically never have taken place.

    In addition, the report mentions payment for services and goods that consumers never asked for -- such as people having their engine oil in their car changed at gas stations against their will, and then being asked to pay.

    Furthermore, the report also includes proposals that would reduce vendor power. For example, it pushes for nullifying a clause in contracts stipulating that vendors should decide whether or not consumers should be compensated.

    However, with this latest report, there were questions as to whether the right to nullify deceptive contracts based on the rationale that "Senior citizens and disabled people lack sufficient judgment" would be recognized. Consumer groups are very much in support of this argument, but as the contract vendors are against it, the expert panel stopped short of recognizing such a right in its report.

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