Online stores and auction sites are a great way to shop the world for whatever you want when it suits you.
Before you order up big, it’s a good idea to be aware of some of the differences between shopping online and offline and keep in mind some of the hidden traps of online shopping.
Use the Websites Of Well-Established and Recognisable Retailers
If it looks shonky, it probably is. Sticking with the tried, tested and proven is safest online.
- Scamwatch (new window) has a list of current known scams to watch out for, worth visiting to find out about current dodgy goings-on online
- It's a good idea to check to see the online store has provided some ID, like street address, phone number and email address
- If you’re not sure about the business you’re dealing with, contact them and wait 'til you hear back from them before you buy anything
- Look for the padlock symbol in the address bar of your browser during the transaction process - this shows that the transaction is a secure one
Use Sites That Fall Under Australian Consumer Laws
Australian consumer protection laws cover you when you shop locally, but when you shop on overseas sites, it pays to take a few extra precautions.
- Understand what your rights are as a foreign customer - international websites may not be governed by Australian consumer laws
- Make sure it’s legal to import whatever it is you’re buying - if you’re unsure whether you’re allowed to import something, like food or rare items, check with the Australian Customs Service (new window) first
- Find out what the cost will be in Australian dollars - exchange rates change daily and you can find them online
- Double-check the delivery cost
For more about what to look out for when shopping overseas, check out the "Shopping Online with an Overseas Business" section on the ACCC's Shopping Online page (new window).
Make Sure You Understand How Transactions Work
Ignorance is not a defense, not to the law, not to your bank, not to your mother. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you hit 'Confirm'.
- Let’s say the T-shirt doesn’t fit or the Lamborghini is left-hand drive - any legitimate online store will state their returns policy on their website
- Know the cost - read the terms and conditions related to delivery charges and warranty conditions
- Make sure the price is all inclusive and takes into account costs such as delivery, insurance, taxes and credit card charges
- Understand the service - is it a one-off cost or an ongoing contract? If it’s a contract, make sure you know how to terminate it
- Know what you’re getting and when - contact the seller directly if you have any questions
- Make sure that you can make a complaint or cancel an order
- Keep copies of any emails or receipts that have details of what you've purchased - if you have any questions, the first thing they’ll ask for is the order number
If something does go wrong with things you've bought online, you don't just have to suck it up. There may be a way to get your money back, or to get your goods replaced.
Shopping online with an Australian company entitles you to the same rights as if you walked into the store and shopped in person.
First, you should contact the vendor to try and fix the problem (get a refund, credit or exchange). If that doesn’t work, try these sites for lots of handy advice on how to deal with the problem:
- Consumer Affairs Victoria's Online Shopping page (new window)
- The ACCC's Shopping Online page (new window)
If you think you’ve been scammed or have spotted a scam, contact SCAMwatch (new window), a Federal Government website aimed at stopping web scams.
Someone Else Spending Your Money
If someone has made unauthorised transactions on your account, you should contact your bank and ask them to investigate. In most cases, your bank should reimburse you for any fraudulent transactions.
If you think the online retailer has made a mistake, you could also contact them and organise a credit to your account.
If you forgot to opt out of receiving emails from an online store, you should be able to unsubscribe at any time (normally by following a link at the bottom of the email).
For more information about scams and spam, check out our Spam and Scams page.
Consumer Affairs Victoria - Online Shopping
CAV has info to make sure that you're safe when you shop online.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) promotes competition and fair trade in the market place to benefit consumers, business and the community.
SCAMwatch is a site run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that provides information on how to recognise, avoid and report scams.
Australian Customs Service
The official site of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.