Checking a business is genuine

  • Not all businesses are real, legitimate or trustworthy.
  • If you have doubts, you can check some information about a business.
  • If you’re unsure about a business, don’t buy from it or give it any personal information.

What the ACCC does

  • We provide information on scams through our Scamwatch website.
  • We receive reports about fake businesses and scams. We use those reports to inform our education, compliance and enforcement work.

What the ACCC can't do

  • We don’t resolve individual disputes with businesses.
  • We don’t confirm whether particular businesses are real or not, whether consumers can trust dealing with them, or whether we have received reports about them.

Not all businesses are genuine

Not all businesses or traders are real or trustworthy. Don’t assume that all businesses or traders you may come in contact with are examined and approved by governments.

Business cards, registration numbers and other forms of identification don’t necessarily prove that a business is legitimate, and even businesses that are legitimate may act dishonestly anyway. And some may pretend to have authorisations, accreditation or licences that they don’t have. Scammers can also fake things like registration numbers and other identification.

If you have doubts, there are some tools that can help you check.

Check business information

It’s always safer to check a business using the information you have and online tools. While having the right registrations and licences doesn’t guarantee that a business is trustworthy or real, it’s a good start.

Business registration

In Australia, business names must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and many will have an Australian Company Number (ACN). Individuals doing business using their personal name don’t have to have a registered business name, but will usually have an Australian Business Number (ABN).

You can usually find an ABN or ACN on the business’s website, in its terms and conditions, on a business card or on an invoice.

To check a business is registered, search the ABN, ACN or business name on the:

Extra permits or licences

In many fields, individuals and businesses need extra licences, permits or registrations to operate legally. For example:

  • builders must be licenced or registered in their state or territory
  • financial services providers, such as mortgage brokers and financial advisers, must have a Financial Services Licence.

To check if a business has a valid licence, registration or permit, contact the relevant registration or licensing authority.

Memberships

Some individuals and businesses are members of professional, industry or trade associations. This is usually voluntary.

If the individual or business claims to have any memberships, you can contact the relevant association to check the claim is true.

Online reviews

Reading online reviews from other consumers can also help you decide whether a business is real and the quality of its services. Don’t just look at reviews on the business’s own website, or social media. Also look for reviews about the business on review platforms and other online forums. Check reviews from multiple sources.

Be wary of fake reviews. There are some signs that can indicate a review is fake:

  • a spike in highly positive or negative reviews over a short period of time
  • multiple reviews written from the same email or IP address
  • similar reviewers’ names
  • generic reviews without specific detail about the business or product
  • reviews written in similar language as other reviews for the same business or product.

See Online product and service reviews for further guidance to consumers using online reviews.

Other checks

Check the address of the business using an online map to see if it really is located in the place it says it is.

Look carefully at the domain (website address) to see if it really is the business you are looking for. Scammers can set up fake websites with similar website addresses to the real business they are pretending to be, so take your time to review the information.

Review the website and see if it has a privacy policy, terms and conditions or an exchange policy and information about complaints processes. This can give you some idea of how trustworthy the business is and how it will approach problems.

Avoid businesses that ask you for personal information before you can see information on the website.

Check the payment methods. Do they ask for payment by unusual methods for that industry? Check that for any payments, their website address starts with https: (instead of http:) and look for a padlock symbol.

Find trustworthy businesses

Often, the best way to find a trustworthy business is to get a referral from a person you trust.

Don’t take advice from people you have only met on social media. Many industry bodies and associations can also refer you to their members, which may also be listed on the association’s website.

You can also do your own research by searching the company name online.

Remember, that if it is too good to be true, then it probably is.

See also

Scams
Shopping online
Online product and service reviews
Telemarketing and door-to-door sales
Where to go for consumer help