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21 April 2022

Teenager takes dodgy reseller to disputes tribunal and wins

Consumer NZ is urging consumers to be aware of their rights when purchasing second-hand goods online. This comes after James de Hair, a 15-year-old from Kāpiti College, saved to buy a second-hand phone off Facebook Marketplace in June 2021. Three months later, it stopped receiving a cellular signal, leaving the phone unusable. The seller refused to give James a full refund, so the schoolboy filed a complaint with the disputes tribunal.

“Many of us buy second-hand goods off TradeMe and social media marketplaces. There are laws in place that can help buyers if their purchase doesn’t end up being what the seller promised,” said Consumer NZ head of content Caitlin Cherry.

More than 10 percent of claims to the disputes tribunal never go to a hearing. Just the act of lodging a claim could get you the result you want if you wind up in a situation like James did.

James’ fight

James settled on purchasing an iPhone XS Max for $750, haggling it down from $800. The phone retailed brand new for $2349, so he was pleased to buy it. When purchasing the phone, he said he asked all the right questions.

“I asked whether the phone has its original battery. And would my SIM card be compatible. The seller assured me it was all good, and the phone was advertised as being in perfect condition.”

When the phone suddenly stopped receiving a cellular signal, James tried to get it repaired. But an authorised Apple repair centre told him they couldn’t fix it as the SIM card tray didn’t match the phone’s serial number. A second repair shop told him there was major water damage with visible rust along the edge of the frame and that the battery had been replaced.

After this, James knew the phone wasn’t in perfect condition like the seller claimed. He contacted the seller and asked him to put it right. The seller refused to provide a full refund, so James’ aunt advised him to go to the disputes tribunal.

“I wasn’t going to get my money back any other way,” James said. “I thought, let’s take him to the tribunal – what’s the worst that can happen? It’s only 45 bucks to file it.”

At the hearing, James turned up in his school uniform with his evidence printed chronologically, so all he had to do was read it out. The seller tried to claim the phone had never been tampered with, but the tribunal referee concluded that it was clear there was misrepresentation.

They reached a settlement. The seller agreed to pay back the $750 and James had to give the phone back.

After his win, James thinks a future in law may be on the cards.

“It would be a pretty cool thing to be able to look back and say I won my first case at 15.”

The experience hasn’t put him off either, as James has already bought another phone off Facebook Marketplace.

“It seems like a better trade – but I’m ready for anything. If I get ripped off, I know what to do.”

“If you find yourself buying something that isn’t what the seller told you it was, you have rights to ensure it gets put right,” Cherry said.

“Taking your claim to the disputes tribunal like James did is an affordable, quick and informal way to get your case resolved.”

“The disputes tribunal is in place to help the public navigate the legal system without going to court. There are no lawyers, and your case isn’t presided over by a judge, but a referee who’s trained in dispute resolution. They encourage the two parties to reach an agreement before giving a binding decision.”

James’ advice for going to the disputes tribunal:

  • Compile your evidence: photos, reports, messages, witnesses. Collect everything that confirms what you are claiming.
  • Check that you have a strong case. If you have a fair amount of evidence or a couple of strong pieces, you are good to go.
  • Make sure you know your rights. Check which laws apply to your situation to ensure you’re covered. Consumer NZ, Citizens Advice Bureau, Consumer Protection and other websites offer free advice online.
  • File your dispute. Tribunals can only hear claims up to $30,000. The lowest fee is $45, if the total amount sought is less than $2000. The highest fee is $180, for a claim between $5000 and $30,000. After you file, it usually takes six weeks for your hearing date, so be prepared to wait.
  • Show up to the tribunal and present your evidence. What the tribunal rules is the final say and must be followed.