Online shopping tips all wrapped up

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Consumer

Christmas shopping online can be really convenient but ’tis the season to be wary.

During last year’s festive period – November 2013 to January 2014 – Consumer Protection received 51 reports from victims of online buying and selling scams with a total monetary loss of $130,814. Of those victims, 19 lost a combined $63,195 through Gumtree. Common items at the centre of online buying and selling scams include cars, boats, caravans and motorhomes; pets, especially pedigree puppies; electrical goods like tablets or smartphones; and concert tickets.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll says more and more Western Australians are buying gifts online but the number of false sellers and other scam attempts are also increasing, which means vigilance is needed.

“We might see online shopping as a way of purchasing presents from the comfort of our homes but while we browse websites in a relaxed setting, we all need to have our guard up and be on the lookout for security risks,” she said.

“Only buy from secure websites with an address that starts with ‘https’ and has a closed padlock in the corner of the internet browser that you can click on to see details of the site’s security. Watch out for pictures of padlocks that are simply added to the pages of scam websites to make them look secure.

“If the site is NOT a well-known reputable retailer, Google the name to look for reviews. Typing the words ‘rip-off’ or ‘scam’ after the name is often a good way to find negative information quickly. Previously, Consumer Protection has shut down fake shopping websites and a search of the names would have revealed threads on consumer blogging sites raising concerns about lower than normal prices on these sites and the non-delivery of goods ordered.”

The Commissioner says choosing how you pay can prevent you from losing your money and Christmas cheer.

“Paying by a secure payment system like PayPal or using a credit card is best as these payment methods offer ways to get your money back if you don’t receive what you paid for. Avoid transferring money into bank accounts or wire transfer.

“If you are using an online classified site like Gumtree you need to meet and exchange goods for cash. Bank transfer in exchange for goods being posted to you is not safe. You must use a secure payment method like PayPal and a registered delivery that can be tracked in the event that purchase does not arrive by mail as expected. Beware some scammers will send so-called ‘spoof emails’, which appear to be from PayPal and contain a link that directs you to a fake version of the PayPal site.”

The Commissioner urged consumers to be extra cautious when dealing with overseas sellers or websites.

“The Australian Consumer Law protects us if something goes wrong with a purchase, but those rights can be hard to enforce with businesses based overseas,” she said.

“Make sure with any site that you read the terms and conditions, refund policy and delivery details before you make a purchase. You want to make sure the present will reach you in time.

“If you have a problem, contact the seller and try to resolve it directly with them. Most major websites have a dispute resolution process you can use. If you are still unable to get a resolution, you can make a complaint to Consumer Protection by calling 1300 30 40 54 or emailing consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au.”

As well as the tips mentioned, consumers should:

  • check the website’s privacy policy to ensure any personal details provided will not be disclosed to third parties;
  • be aware of extra costs like taxes, delivery fees, packaging and postage;
  • review and confirm orders before paying;
  • keep records of reference numbers and print receipts;
  • ensure all charges are correct by checking the receipt against credit card or bank statements; and
  • make sure electrical items (including toys) meet Australian safety standards.

For more information on online shopping visit www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/buying-online

Media contact (Consumer Protection)

Consumer Protection
Media release
10 Dec 2014

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