Crook status time-consuming to confirm

Anna Ploompuu
, suvereporter
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Photo: Ekraanitõmmis

With no binding judicial decision declaring a person as punished for fraud, calling them crooks may mean legal trouble for publishers of information.

Internet forum and Facebook pictures of alleged crooks and thieves may bring punishments on those distributing the information, as pursuant to Personal Data Protection Act it is prohibited to arbitrarily publish other people’s data.

«Publishing data of alleged fraudsters is prohibited just like the arbitrary publishing of the data of anybody else,» said web constable Maarja Punak.

Also, those accused in fraud have the right to have recourse to court to protect their honour and dignity, especially when investigations prove absence of guilt.

«Publishing Crooks»

«Fraudsters may be punished by police, provided the existence of a case of fraud or deceit. Also, consumers may file courts with expedited payment order procedures,» said Epp Joala, consumer policy and public relations specialist at Consumer Protection Board.

Facebook’s biggest nearly 2,000 member group Publishing Crooks (Petturid avalikuks), for instance, has been active since last June. The group encourages publishing information on all crooks and fraudsters complete with pictures, plus information on dishonest entrepreneurs.

Even so, advice is added: «Should you fear legal problems, create a fake FB (Facebook – edit) account to post your information.»

In cases of innocent people slandered over the Internet, people usually settle their differences between themselves: fist, they address the internet portal administrators, or the slanderers personally, asking the disparaging post to be removed. In case that will not help, it is possible, for instance, to file a Facebook report on an offensive and inappropriate post.

«Personal Data Protection Act allows for personal data to be published as agreed by the person or based on law. Nobody has addressed the inspectorate complaining about their personal data being published in the aforementioned group,» said Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate (AKI) advisor Silver Sarapuu.

Even so, he stated that AKI often encounters cases of public defamation. «Should the public disclosure be illegal, the one disclosing the data i.e. the person adding data to the group will bear the responsibility. Also, we have addressed Facebook directly, in certain cases, in order to have data removed,» said the advisor.

According to web constable Punak, the administrators of several portals allowing disclosure fail to understand that their portals are also being used to slander innocent people and that the portals publish unchecked, unverified information.

According to Ms Joala, the most popular complaints tropic over the past years, at Consumer Protection Board, is e-commerce. Within the first six months of this year, 652 inquiries and 129 complaints have been filed; statistically, however, records are not kept on how many of these have had to do with fraud and deceit.

«Mainly, consumers complain that they are not getting their goods, or the money is not being returned. Regrettably, we are not always able to help, especially when the money has been transferred to a third country (outside EU)or private account,» she explained.

Missing goods or money

Various inquiries and questions on e-commerce, as well as on public defamation, are filed to the web constable daily. According to Ms Punak, she and her colleagues have been addressed, with issues of internet fraud, on 119 occasions.

«Last year, we used another form where thefts, fraud and debts all came under the same column. Over the year, we collected 635 such letters, the year before that – only 326,» said she.

The web constable drew attention to cases where one e-commerce party has made the payment, not receiving the goods.

«The reasons given by fraudsters, why that have failed to send the goods, vary. Some bring no reasons and avoid answering calls/letters. Some keep apologising for months on end, how every day there is at least one hindrance keeping them from sending the stuff,» she said.

«Some file papers on surprising customs fees which the client allegedly is supposed to start paying. Some honestly say they are not intending to send the goods, ever.»

Ms Punak said that in the case of Internet stores, applications need to be filed to Consumer Protection Board; with private persons – to police. «And then there are the cases which are to be dealt with by courts,» said she.

With frauds causing damage under €64, the penalty is up to €1,200. With bigger losses occurred, courts may impose pecuniary punishments or imprisonment of up to three years.