There is no simple answer to this question. Some consumers have the knowledge, skill and ability to negotiate and get good value for money. Others seem to close their eyes to risks and hope for the best - or at least that they will not be alone if problems arise.
We receive reports from both groups of consumers. Even if people have managed to take care of their own affairs, they may still make a report so that authorities can do something about questionable practices.
Reports cover everything from unjustified collection letters to misleading advertising and unfair contract terms. Consumers can run into problems whether they buy airline tickets, electronic equipment or electricity.
So far this year the Finnish Consumer Agency has received about 15% more reports than in the same period the year before. The figure for the whole year will probably exceed 4,000. By far the largest number of reports concerns communications services. Financial services are second on the list.
Shortcomings in customer service are a perennial subject of reports, along with the time and bother required to compare prices and quality and consumers' sense of helplessness when it comes to understanding businesses' contract terms.
Against this background it is gratifying to note that the EU's consumer policy strategy underlines the role of consumer policy by stating that our need for confident consumers to drive our economies has never been greater.
The number of consumers who are in a vulnerable position is increasing as a result of the growth in consumption by children and an ageing population. Consumers can be empowered by improving regulation, enforcement, legal protection and consumer education. The objective is make markets genuinely serve consumers.
The strategy's message is no surprise. Without consumers and their confidence there can be no trade, and without trade there can be no internal market and growing prosperity. The minimum requirement when it comes to considering consumers is to comply with legislation.
The old virtue of obeying the law is not something that is outdated. Rules exist to protect everyone. The reports that we receive and pass on to businesses should be taken seriously into consideration in planning activities.
EU consumer protection legislation is being reformed at a rapid pace. A political consensus was recently reached on a reform of the Consumer Credit Directive, for example. The reform will have few benefits for Finnish consumers, but at least the level of consumer protection will not fall significantly in Finland.
The level of consumer protection should not be lowered simply because this would make it easier to get credit abroad. The directive's full harmonization nature will in future prevent national legislative measures that could be justified on account of the special features of Finnish consumers and financial markets.
Editor-in-Chief, Director of the Consumer Law Division