Shop smart online
With Commissioner for Consumer Protection, David Hillyard
Enthusiasts refer to it as retail therapy, but it can also be incredibly frustrating to circle packed car parks, push your way through hordes of shoppers or visit the shops only to find the item you want isn’t even available.
Perhaps that accounts for Australians spending an estimated $27.5 billion dollars online last year, according to Australia Post's latest Inside Australian Online Shopping Report. From the comfort of your couch, with a few clicks you’ve paid for an item you could receive the same day.
But with more Australians forgoing a visit to the shops in favour of the internet, how do we avoid false sellers, scams and dodgy retailers – particularly those who disappear after your payment has processed?
Our usual advice for shoppers who encounter problems with purchases is to contact the seller and try to resolve it directly with them. However, we’ve seen a worrying increase in reports from consumers who have made purchases from an online retailer they can’t contact when troubles arise because the store has no physical address or phone number – or these details turn out to be bogus. And unfortunately, it’s often the case that if you can’t track down a seller, we may not be able to either.
It’s a good reason to be suspicious of unfamiliar sites and to consider the risks if an online retailer doesn’t provide a physical address, phone contact details or ABN that you can independently verify.
The following tips can help prevent you losing money while shopping online:
- If you can’t find contact details for a business (a phone number and physical address), don’t shop with them.
- Watch out for sites asking for insecure payment methods (direct bank transfer or wire transfer).
- Protect yourself by using known reputable sites and paying by a secure system (padlocked) with a credit card or PayPal, so you have an opportunity to seek a chargeback if you don’t get what you paid for.
- Use the internet to search for reviews before buying from a website, as this will often reveal consumer blog threads exposing scam sites or a Consumer Protection warning. 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 (read more at www.scamnet.wa.gov.au) 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.
- Be aware that scammers create copycat sites of real online businesses. Pixelated photos and links that do not work can be a sign of this.
- If you receive a message about an undeliverable package, don’t open any attachments or download files. If you are suspicious, call the company directly to verify that the message is genuine after independently sourcing their contact details.
- 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.
Make sure with any site that you read the terms and conditions, refund policy and delivery details before you make a purchase.