ACCC watches internet trading over Christmas/New Year

16 December 2002

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be closely monitoring complaints about e-commerce during December and January.

"Internet shopping holds many attractions", ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today. "From the consumer’s own home, bargains can be found from across the globe. However, such a vast marketplace can harbour unscrupulous and anonymous traders.

"Consumers should be vigilant, especially during this high spending time of year. It is crucial that consumers go into on-line transactions with their eyes open.

"Over the past year, the ACCC has acted against on-line shopping websites. For example, in April 2002 Bikes Direct, an Internet trader based in Australia, entered into court enforceable undertakings with the ACCC for allegedly misleading consumers regarding warranties and refunds as well as for allegedly selling imported bikes which did not comply with mandatory Australian consumer product safety standard.

"Also, in October 2002, the ACCC filed court proceedings against the operator of www.sydneyopera.org, a website that allegedly purported to be the official booking site of the Sydney Opera House. In this matter, the ACCC alleges that several consumers from the United Kingdom and Europe have attempted to purchase tickets through the imitation site, and whilst their credit cards have been charged for tickets, they have either been overcharged or have not received them. This case shows how some sites can fraudulently mirror or copy existing sites, using similar web addresses, resulting in consumers paying for products they do not receive.

"Consumers need to carefully check the website they are using to ensure a successful on-line shopping experience. Businesses, on the other hand, need to engage in full disclosure if they are serious about attracting large sales volumes this Christmas period.

"On-line consumers can try to avoid problems by following some simple rules:

  • check the site carefully for the trader’s full contact details including a street address
  • check delivery times, stock availability and if the company has a policy of substituting a product if the one ordered is unavailable
  • verify any seals/badges of approval or affiliation with codes of conduct. Usually there is a link from the badge itself which should provide the necessary information to show that the trader is genuine
  • use sites that have secure on-line payment. This is usually shown by an unbroken lock or key at the bottom of the screen or as ‘https//’ in the webpage address. It is also useful to confirm the payment in someway either by phone or email. Some sites have a return window that confirms the order once it is placed giving the consumer a clear understanding of the final cost before finally agreeing to it. Consumers should print out this confirmation or save it for future reference
  • check how the company will deal with personal information. In Australia there are privacy provisions which also apply to on-line traders
  • read all the terms and conditions carefully. Traders sometimes use these to limit liability
  • check for warranties, the trader’s refund policies and any dispute resolution processes. In Australia traders are bound by the statutory warranty provisions in the Trade Practices Act
  • check that the product is legal in Australia. As on-line consumers cannot personally inspect goods or services it is important that on-line traders provide accurate information on their website

Consumers wishing to make a complaint should call the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502.

Release number: 
MR 325/02
ACCC Infocentre: 

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Media enquiries: 
Ms Lin Enright - (02) 6243 1108