The 12 Consumer Cons of Xmas



Some of us look forward to it with glee, while others (like Moi) can’t wait for it to pass. Whatever camp you belong to it’s important to be aware of your consumer rights, because Santa won’t be telling you about them. Let’s have a look at some usual suspects that are always naughty but never nice.

1. Bought it on special… so no guarantee?

In Australia we have this wonderful thing called the Australian Consumer Law which is there to protect us from all the dodgy deals and ‘special’ conditions we come across.

Where guarantees are concerned, the law is clear. It doesn’t matter whether you got something for 95% off or ‘on special’, the seller must still give you a guarantee on anything you have bought that is under $40,000. If you are lucky enough to get given some real bling worth more than $40K, you have a guarantee on these items, if they are for your personal or household use.

It is also against the law to display signs that say: ‘We do not give guarantees’.

2.  Your new wind up Ken doll won’t work?

This would be called a minor problem and if the seller is prepared to offer you a free repair you must accept this in the first instance. But if after the repair, Ken still won’t stand up erect, you can ask for a refund or a replacement.

Sellers are also allowed a reasonable period of time to repair minor problems so give them a few weeks before you up the ante.

If the business fails to fix your problem, you’re more than entitled to get Ken repaired elsewhere and pass on the costs to the business or ask for a replacement or a refund. But remember that directly working it out with the seller is always easiest on both you and Ken.

My mum also wanted me to mention that exercising patience is a virtue.

3.  The dodgy deck tradesman

A wise old man told me that honest and reputable tradesmen only want your money when they’ve completed a job well done. So a good way to protect yourself here is to pay on the satisfactory completion of your job.

Dodgy tradesmen occasionally make cameo appearances in your life when you’re rushing to get things right around the house for Chrissy. You’re still entitled to a guarantee for the work or service these dodgy Dans provide. It doesn’t matter if they are licensed or not.

If the quality of the work is substantially unfit for its purpose and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time or is just unsafe this is classified as a major problem. You can bypass the ‘getting them to repair the mess’ stage.

As soon as you identify the problem, contact the business to explain the problem and the outcome you want. In many cases a simple phone call can fix the problem. But if Dodgy Dan won’t sort it out with you, write a complaint letter so he is clearly aware of the problem and what you want. Make sure you also have a record of your contact with him/her.

If direct contact with the business fails, you may wish to: report the business to your state & territory consumer organisations and lodge a complaint with your state & territory small claims tribunals. And whatever you do… stay off that dodgy deck until it’s fixed properly!

4.  Hey… this looks nothing like the picture on the box 

Businesses are not allowed to make a false impression and this also applies to their advertising, their product packaging, and any information provided to you by their staff or online shopping services.

It makes no difference whether the business intended to mislead you or not. If they sweet talk you in their ads or fool you with their packaging and all you get is a brown banana, then their behaviour is likely to breach the law.

So if what you saw on the packet or online isn’t what magically appears when you open your holiday season purchase, you’re entitled to ask for a replacement or a refund. If you don’t get it, make a consumer complaint.

5.  Rip-off packaged gift sets and hampers

Watch out for this usual suspect at Christmas, the rip-off box sets or hampers, where you’re paying an enormous mark-up for what is in essence just a basket or box. For example, the contents of a $120 gift basket from a certain department store cost just $44 when bought as separate items from the local supermarket.

That’s one expensive woven basket!

6.  The interest free offer with a big sting         

It’s often around the festive season that those annoying loud ads appear on the box offering 48 months interest free, when you purchase something very expensive off that business, like a fancy 4D TV or an enormous fridge you probably don’t need.

48 months interest free always sounds tempting when you’ve got a lot of spending to do. However, one study found 30% of customers said the salesperson had not explained that they would be charged interest once the interest-free period ended, while less than a third read the paperwork in detail.

Customers particularly were not aware of the fees, commitments, extra charges and interest-free period expiry date. This is where interest-free services become less enticing. “Interest free” is only available for the life of the loan. You have the flexibility to pay for your purchases with low weekly repayments and offset interest, but the fine print can sting if you don’t tread carefully.

Making late payments with most of these interest free store cards incurs a penalty fee, as can early payments so use your interest-free store card or interest free loan on purchases wisely and form a personal payment schedule to pay off the entire debt by the interest-free expiry period so you won’t be subject to any nasty surprises.

If you think you have been wrongly charged or misled make a consumer complaint.

7.  Get lost… You don’t have a receipt

It happens to the best of us, you buy something and can’t find the receipt. So you go back to the store to tell your story of woe and find a salesperson whose pre-sale charm seems to have expired telling you to be gone!

However, under the consumer law, a receipt may be recognised in many different ways. For example, a credit or debit card statement; a lay-by agreement; a receipt or reference number given for phone or internet payments; a copy or photograph of the receipt and even a barcode linked with the purchase.

With receipts the law is clear – all businesses must always give you one or proof of purchase for anything over $75. If they don’t, ask for one. You also have the right to request a receipt for anything under $75.

8.  It’s too late to complain, it’s your problem now

There are limits on the remedies available to you where a seller has failed to live up to your consumer guarantee. Just remember that you probably won’t be able to reject goods you have bought if the ‘rejection period’ for the goods has ended and by this think of what would be a ‘reasonable’ time for something to breakdown.

So if the toaster has lasted 10 years and it suddenly won’t work you can’t reject it and ask for a refund (or repair) because that would be a reasonable life for a toaster. Also, if you have lost, destroyed or disposed of any nightmare purchase, then all is lost for you making a claim.

9.  Christmas “clubs” that don’t save money

Christmas savings clubs offer a means to store up cash and take the stress out of shopping, but also come with a range of catches. These clubs, don’t normally offer interest on your savings, so it may be better to save in an interest-paying bank account. Also, they limit you to a set of pre-picked retailers so you may be missing out on the best deals or the items you really want to buy at the time.

10.  Charity Christmas cards 

You buy charity Christmas cards with good intentions but it may surprise you to learn that several such cards only transfer one-tenth of their proceeds to the advertised charity. Card producers are legally obliged to state exactly what proportion of their profit they donate to the charity. Keep your eyes peeled for this if you want to put your compassion to good use; don’t just fall for the charity brand printed on the product.

You also have no responsibility to return cards that mysteriously arrive in your letter box.

11.  Fake Parcel Collection

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, our national consumer law champion, in the past has warned people to watch out for scammers who send emails posing as postal services and asking for money for parcel delivery.

The con artists pose as Australia Post or FedEx, and send emails telling people they missed a parcel delivery at home. The emails say that information for retrieving the package is included in an attachment. But the file once opened, will install ransomware on your computer. This yucky malware restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom be paid to the creator of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed.

Other scams offer to redeliver the parcel at another time for a fee of up to $30. How rude is that? …so watch out.

12.  They said it would make my hair shine like a thousand stars 

Well we all want to look our best at Christmas but in the law we call this puffery. Nice word eh? It simply means that if the claim a seller makes is so absolutely ridiculous that no ordinary person would believe it then you can’t claim the seller or manufacturer was trying to fool you.

But then again, I hear that a little puffery is oft’ spoke under the mistletoe.



(They’re very popular at this time of the year – and could cost you thousands!!)