It might be the World Wide Web, but the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is generally only enforceable if you buy from an Australian business, so you should consider the benefits of shopping with online retailers based here. You can verify a site’s Australian Business Number (ABN) online. Here are some helpful tips to keep your online shopping enjoyable:
Online shopping tips:
- Try to use reputable, well-known retail websites. For smaller or lesser known online sellers, look for a phone number and physical address and call them if you feel unsure. Also check if the site is secure e.g. url starts with https or padlock symbol on the page.
- Do some internet research before using an online retailer to see what reviews/blog posts come up when you type in the name of the site into your search engine.
- When you place an order, confirm the timeframe for delivery or if possible a set date. Keep a record of your transaction by printing or taking a screenshot of your order confirmation, invoice or receipt. Be sure to check the seller’s policy on returns, refunds, shipping, insurance, warranties etc. especially if they are based overseas.
- Think about using a secure payment system. Not only does this shield your banking details from the online seller; usually the secure payment system provider offers a dispute resolution service with a refund option if your goods don’t arrive.
- If you have paid by credit card and do not receive your purchase, you should seek a chargeback from your financial institution.
- Never send money by ‘wire transfer’ for the purchase of goods and services. Scammers use wire transfer services to get money fast and once it’s been collected you can’t get it back.
- Download the ACCC Shopper app and you’ll always be able to check where you stand when it comes to refunds, warranties and lay-bys.
Online shoppers facing delivery delays
While online shopping may seem quick and easy because you can do it from your home computer, tablet or smartphone you should be mindful that delivery delays are a distinct possibility.
Consumer Protection receives a high level of enquiries and complaints about delayed or non-delivery of online purchases. The late or non-arrival issue relates to a variety of goods; most predominantly kitchen or household appliances, followed by clothing, shoes and accessories and cameras/photography products.
Internet-based businesses invariably only communicate with consumers electronically and Western Australians are telling us they often have difficulty gaining a response to emails and no option of a phone number to call. Many customers report waiting months for their purchases and some don’t receive anything at all.
Under the ACL goods or services for personal, domestic or household use must be supplied to consumers within a reasonable amount of time, which means that if you encounter problems getting your purchases, Consumer Protection should be able to help.
Whether you are advertising an item for sale or trying to buy something, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter scammers when using newspaper and online classifieds. Consumer Protection receives many reports from people who have fallen victim to a large number of online buying or selling scams.
There are risks associated with buying from private sellers who are not in WA and you don’t meet face to face. Sites like Gumtree are a great way to buy and sell second hand items on a view/pick-up and pay by cash basis. However transacting with strangers who say they are in the Eastern States or overseas means you are buying items sight unseen, so the goods may not exist and often the scammers have copied details from a legitimate advertisement.
If you wire transfer any form of payment such as by Western Union or use an electronic money system like Ukash, it is almost impossible to trace who received the money. Even if you do a bank transfer, you may struggle to track the transaction with the banks or gain redress through law enforcement agencies. Only a secure payment system such as PayPal offers a refund opportunity when goods do not arrive.
Remember though, scammers also create copycat versions of secure payment websites like Google Checkout or PayPal and will entice you in by supplying a link. Do not click on links like this - type the known URL (web address) such as paypal.com.au directly into your browser.
If you are using eBay to shop online, only use the eBay message service. This helps avoid scams such as bogus second chance offers on email after you lose out to another bidder. Read more at WA ScamNet.
When using shopping websites which don’t belong to well-known retailers, make sure the business truly exists by verifying the street address and contact details. Do an online search to see if there are any reviews or blogs about it. Before entering personal or financial information, make sure the site is secure (check that the web address starts with https and look for the padlock symbol).
Apart from cars and boats, other fake items often advertised for sale are electronics (phones, cameras etc.), concert/ event tickets and pets; mostly puppies. With puppy scams, buyers are drawn in emotionally because of photos and a ‘sob story’ supplied by text or email. There may also be a story about the animal being sick and requiring treatment before it can be shipped and there will generally be a fee for it to be transported to WA in a crate. To avoid these sorts of scams your best bet is to go to an animal rescue centre and adopt a pet or to buy locally from a reputable breeder.
It’s not just buyers who are losing money. Recently sellers who advertised campervans and cars on Gumtree lost thousands of dollars. Scammers pose as potential buyers. They might create a story which involves overpaying and asking the seller to on-pay the extra money to a bogus shipment company or courier. The whole original payment is then declined by your bank because a stolen credit card or dodgy cheque was used. Sometimes the scammers just convince the seller to pay transportation costs up front and then disappear with that money.
You can fight back by notifying website operators of scam adverts and reporting email addresses used in these scams to the email service providers. If you need further help you can contact WA ScamNet via email or via the Consumer Protection contact centre: 1300 304 054.