Tips and rights when buying on the internet

vint. computer and womanProtecting yourself when shopping online

The Legal Eagle’s Online Shopping Tips:

  • Conduct research: When using a new website for purchases, read reviews and see if other consumers have had a positive or negative experience with the site.
  • If the price sounds unbelievable:  Con artists and scammers know we are always looking for a bargain when shopping online. Exercise caution when seeing an offer where the discount is way below normal.
  • When in doubt, throw it out: Links in emails, posts and texts are often the ways cybercriminals try to steal your information or infect your devices. Be on high alert for emails that might get you to act quickly and click through links and open attachments.
  • Personal information is like money: value it and protect it: When making a purchase online, be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure you think it is necessary for the vendor to request that information. Remember, you only need to fill out required fields at checkout.
  • Problem with your credit card emails: Be wary of emails about problems with your credit cards or an account or the status of online order. Don’t respond to these emails directly. Instead, verify any such concerns by finding the official website for the service and send or phone your enquiry that way.
  • Use safe payment options: Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered.
  • Don’t be disappointed: Read return and other polices so you know what to expect if the purchase doesn’t go as planned.
  • Protect your $$: When shopping, check to be sure the site is security enabled. Look for web addresses with a padlock symbol AND https:// at the top of your screen before the site name, indicating extra measures have been taken by that company to help secure your information.
  • Don’t shop at a site if you’re not comfortable—If you feel that the site may not be secure, you’re probably right. Little things such as misspellings, requests for excessive personal information, and low-resolution logos and photos may be warning signs.
  • Check the web address to make sure you are on the correct site—Once you arrive at a site, you need to make sure that it is legitimate and not a fake or spoofed version.
  • bank safeUse a credit card or an online payment service: If the site turns out to be fraudulent, your credit card company will usually reimburse you for the purchase but you must let them know what has happened asap; and in the case of credit card fraud, the law should protect you. Online payment services like PayPal offer a way for you to pay for your online purchases without having to share your bank or credit card information with e-retailers.
  • Never click on links from spam mail offers:  It’s always a bad idea to click on a link from someone you don’t know, but it’s particularly dangerous if you buy on a site advertised in a spam email. Always use a search engine to locate legit e-retailers.
  • Check the web address to make sure you are on the correct site—Once you arrive at a site, you need to make sure that it is legitimate and not a fake or spoofed version.
  • Always check the site is secure. It should have a security seal like these  indicating that the site has been scanned and verified as secure by a trusted third party. These security seals indicate that the site will protect you from identity theft, credit card fraud, spam and other malicious threats. Also there should be a padlock symbol

    to the left of site ID bar when you go to it. Sometimes you might also see a red sign on the ID bar saying a site is not secure.
    If it is an ecommerce site selling things you should rethink buying from such a site particularly if it is new or has no history.
  • Make better passwords: If your passwords are weak, improve them by adding capital letters, numbers and symbols and using different passwords for every account. Yes I know it’s a pain to remember them all, so find a secure spot both on your computer and on paper to keep the details. PS…and don’t call it a ‘passwords’ file!
  • Do not use a public computer to shop online: Computers save or “cache” information to speed up your Internet experience. And, if you are using a public computer, information such as your browsing history and even your login information may be accessible to strangers who use the computer after you. If you leave the computer without logging out of certain sites, others might be able to access your accounts. To protect yourself, do all of your online shopping from your secure home computer.
  • Only use a secure connection when you place your order—Never shop using an unsecured wireless network because hackers can access your payment information if the network is not protected.
  • Pin and password seekers: beware of sellers asking for your bank PIN or password. Never buy from these sellers. Report them and any other dodgy online services to the ACCC.
  • Keep copies of all documents, including electronic records of auction bids, item descriptions, emails and receipts in case there is a problem later. If there is a problem, email the seller outlining the issue and how you want it resolved.

Your rights when shopping online

Online businesses selling goods and services in Australia must:

  • Ensure products and services meet Australian safety regulations
  • Not mislead you or hide costs and other details from you
  • Compete fairly to ensure a variety of choices on quality and price
  • Give you automatic guarantees with the right to ask for a repair, replacement, refund, cancellation or compensation as appropriate if there is a problem.
  • Have the right to sell you a product, meaning what you’re buying mustn’t be stolen and must belong to the business or individual and not come with any outstanding debts.
  • Not mislead you into paying any fees or charges for goods without telling you up front how much any  fees associated with your purchase will be at the beginning of the purchase process.

Also, when shopping online with an Australian or overseas business make sure that they have:

♦  A good reputation (check if there are independent reviews on them) and don’t trust the ‘reviews’ on their site.
♦  Display clear processes for solving problems and giving replacements and refunds,
♦  Display their business registration number, phone and fax number and a physical address

Online Auctions
Before participating in an online auction it’s important to read the terms and conditions and understand all
procedures and costs. The following types of auctions are typically available online:

Marketplace online auctions – these are a popular way of buying, with a well-known example being eBay. In these ‘virtual’ markets, a business sets up the website and provides a set of rules and guidelines, but it is mostly left to the individual buyers and sellers to deal directly with each other. In these types of auctions, the business running the website may not be directly involved in the auction process and may not  be an agent for the seller. Another practice known as shilling involves operators using a third party to place dummy bids to drive costs higher. Be on the lookout for patterns like this and report them to whatever site you’re using.

Traditional auctions – this is where the auctioneer acts on behalf of the seller of the goods and instead of interested buyers gathering together in person, an online auction house uses a website to create a virtual auction. In this type of auction, the auctioneer may be an agent for the seller.

Auctions conducted by businesses – this is where the business running the website offers their own products for sale by an auction process.

‘Buy it now’ option – Some auction sites give you an option to buy now without having to bid. If you choose to buy immediately you will have all your usual shopping rights, unless the seller is a private individual and it is a one-off sale.

Consumer rights for online auctions

You can make a complaint and ask for a refund under the Australian Consumer Law if an Australian business selling through online auction, sold you a product that:

  • Misled you about features of the product or hid costs or other details from you
  • Was stolen, did not belong to the business or individual or came with outstanding debts, charges or restrictions the business didn’t tell you about beforehand
  • Was faulty or does not do what it is supposed to (but this does not apply to traditional auctions).

It may be more difficult to resolve a dispute with an overseas business selling through online auction. While you can report problems to the auction website, usually disputes are between the seller and the buyer. The website is not involved in the actual sales process except in the case of traditional auctions or where the auction website is offering its own products for sale.

Shopping for love on the internet?

The ease of online dating from the comfort of your home can also have pitfalls. There are many who are prepared to take advantage of love birds looking for a mate. In the following short video the reformed scammer ‘Stevie’ explains that these scallywags know how to tug at not just your heartstrings, but also your purse strings leaving you lite on love… and money.
Watch this life lesson from Stevie’s Scam School (with thanks to Consumer Affairs Victoria):

And when looking at those tempting profiles keep an eagle eye out for some of the following signs that you may be getting scammed.

fake-profile scam

And for those of you interested in other popular scams, the Scamwatch website provides tips on how to spot online shopping scams.