Identifying a genuine business

Consumers often ask us how they can check if the business or trader they are dealing with is legitimate or genuine.

Not all traders are genuine

Some consumers assume that all traders are legitimate because they are approved and monitored by the government, but this is not true. While there are rules and regulations about setting up a business or company in Australia, authorisation to operate does not guarantee honesty. Some traders may even pretend to have authorisations or licences that they do not have.

Business cards, registration numbers or other forms of identification do not necessarily prove that a business or trader is legitimate.

If you are in any doubt about the credentials of a business or trader that you are dealing with, do some research and verify any information they provide. If you are not satisfied it is better to deal with someone else.

Check if the company or business is registered

Companies, businesses and other traders must be registered before they can operate legally in Australia. While having the correct registrations doesn't guarantee that the company or business is totally genuine, it is a good start.

Companies

All Australian companies must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Companies registered under the Corporations Act 2001 can conduct business throughout Australia without needing to register in individual state and territory jurisdictions.

The ASIC website has several registers that you can search for free, such as the Organisations and Business Names register, which indexes Australian corporate and registered business names. It also includes some incorporated associations.

Businesses

If the business is not a company (such as a sole trader, a joint venture or a partnership), it will need to be registered in each state and territory where it operates.

Search the Organisations and Business Names register on the ASIC website or the Australian Government website www.business.gov.au using the ABN Lookup function.

Check if the trader has a permit or licence

Many companies, businesses, tradespeople and professional service providers need some sort of additional registration or licence before they can operate their business. These licensing systems help industries maintain professional standards and encourage consumer confidence.

You may wish to verify any information the trader gives you about their licences.

Check if the trader has any memberships

Many industries are represented by professional or trade associations. Membership of these types of associations is generally voluntary.

Ask the trader you are dealing with if they belong to an association. If they claim that they do, ask them for the membership or licence number. Contact the industry association yourself and verify the information the trader gives you.

Seek a referral

If you have doubts about a business or trader, don’t deal with them. Ask your family, friends, or neighbours if they can recommend a person or business. You could also contact an industry body or association for a referral. Often the industry associations will have a list of members on their websites.

More information

Protecting yourself from scams
Telemarketing & door-to-door
Where to go for consumer help