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With the biggest shopping days ahead, Costa Rica still lacks good e-commerce regulations

While two of the biggest shopping days – Black Friday and Christmas – are quickly approaching, Costa Rican lawmakers are working to pass legislation that improves controls and consumer protection of e-commerce transactions, an area where the country lags.

Legislative Bill #19,012, known as the “Electronic Commerce Bill,” aims to set a legal framework based on international standards, particularly those established by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), a legal body with universal membership specializing in commercial law.

Attorney Vilma Sánchez del Castillo, an e-commerce law specialist, in 2013 drafted and submitted the bill to Costa Rica’s Legislative Commission on Economic Affairs. Lawmakers at the time accepted the initiative, but failed to move forward on it.

The proposed legislation would better regulate all purchases made through electronic platforms including websites, emails and chats – essentially “any transaction in which the parties are physically separated,” Sánchez said.

The regulations would oversee database queries, online advertising on websites, social media, emails, and any other kind of new service or information technology that becomes available in the future, Sánchez said.

“The bill does not propose the creation of new crimes, but rather seeks to impose civil sanctions to protect both parties involved in online transactions – not only customers,” she added.

Infractions in the bill are classified as very serious, serious and minor, and provide fines ranging from 30 to 100 minimum salaries, or about ₡12 million to ₡40 million ($22,000-$75,000).

Sánchez, currently a legal clerk at the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, said the initiative aims to fill a gap in Costa Rica’s commercial legislation. She said Costa Rica currently has only general rules set by the country’s civil and commercial codes, which are insufficient to regulate and resolve problems arising from e-commerce and international commerce.

The bill was brought up again for discussion by current members of the Economic Affairs Commission, and its drafting has received approval of the Assembly’s technical services office. It must now be voted on in the commission before moving to the full Assembly.

“Costa Rica is lagging on this issue,” Sánchez said. “Many regional countries already have current legislation: El Salvador and Honduras recently passed laws on electronic signatures and electronic commerce precisely based on UNCITRAL standards.”

Be safe, shoppers.

Instead, Costa Rica’s Finance Ministry last week launched a publicity campaign to encourage safe shopping online, including messages on social media and in newspapers.

Finance Vice Minister Fernando Rodríguez said packages entering the country and showing “irregularities” would be held at customs. The publicity campaign includes steps to safely shop and to identify courier companies registered with the Customs Administration.

The director of the Economy Ministry’s Consumer Support Office, Cinthya Zapata, said the lack of specific laws for e-commerce is troubling.

“From a regulatory point of view, we know the system has flaws. There are things that need improvement. But we must also improve prevention,” she said last Friday.

Zapata said most problems occur because people buy at unsafe online stores, prompted by promised deals and promotions.

“People here usually buy in known stores like Amazon, but at certain times of the year many buy from less-known virtual shops, or from personal Facebook pages offering appealing deals. Most don’t offer any kind of guarantee or security,” she added.

Complaints to the Consumer Support Office for problems with online purchases already surpassed figures registered last year by as much as 400 percent, Zapata said.

Some of the most common complaints were about shopping websites that don’t offer information about a physical address, or no local representation in Costa Rica, making the option to file a claim difficult, the Economy Ministry reported.

Other problems include customers receiving the wrong products or defective ones.

Customers who currently have complaints with online purchases can send an email to: denunciasaduanas@hacienda.go.cr.  Complaint also can be filed via an online form at the Finance Ministry’s website or the Economy Ministry’s website.

Good luck out there.

Recommended: Black Friday in Costa Rica: Half of Ticos surveyed plan to shop

See one of the messages from the Finance Ministry:

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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