My rights shopping online

We don’t think you should be ripped off by anyone if they sell you something that breaks or doesn’t do what you were promised.  There’s nothing worse than ordering that new computer game or beautiful red shoes only to find out they’re not what you asked for. 

This page explains what your rights are in these situations.  It’s important to speak up quickly to make sure you can solve your problem.  We’ve got a little motto for shopping problems: if it’s crap, send it back!

These are the laws that apply if you bought something online from an Australian business.  If you buy from an overseas online seller, you may not be covered by the guarantees. There is also likely to be practical difficulties getting a remedy from an overseas based seller.  

They also won’t apply if you bought from an individual who doesn’t ordinarily sell stuff (for example, someone selling a couch on Gumtree but who doesn’t sell couches to everyone, it’s a one-off).

Before you buy something online, it’s good to know where the seller is located. They could either be:

  • An Australian business
  • An overseas business
  • A private individual seller who is not running a business e.g. on eBay or Gumtree

You are best protected under the Australian Consumer Law if you buy from an Australian business.

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Refunds

You can’t get a refund just because you’ve changed your mind. However, some stores may still give you a refund or gift card if you ask nicely, but they don’t have to.  You should ask them if this is the case before buying.   

You also can’t get a refund just because:

  • you bought the goods for someone else who does not want them anymore;
  • you found out you could get it cheaper from somewhere else;
  • you knew about the problems at the time of purchase but bought it anyway;  or
  • you damage the product by using it in a different way from how it should be used.

You can return something and get a refund if there’s a major problem.  A problem is considered major if: 

  • You wouldn’t have bought the thing if you knew about the problem.
  • it’s unsafe
  • it’s very different from the description or pictures you were given
  • it doesn’t do what the shop said it would do or what you asked for, and it can’t be easily fixed

Case studies

Erica moves out of home and buys a fridge for her new place from William’s Whitegoods. The fridge doesn’t keep the food cold. Erica wouldn’t have bought the fridge if he knew that it didn’t keep food cold!
Yi’s kettle has sparks coming out of it.  This is very unsafe because it might start a fire.
Natasha orders red boots, but the ones she receives are yellow.
Bec specifically asked for a waterproof camera, but this camera broke as soon as she got into the water to go scuba diving.

If the problem is major, you can choose to get a refund or a replacement

If you choose a replacement product, the shop must give you an item that is identical to the product you originally bought. If you choose a refund, you should get back the full amount that you paid (in the same form as your original payment such as in cash or back onto your debit card).

Whatever you choose, it’s your choice, not the shop’s choice. You get to decide.

If the problem isn’t major, you still have options.  When you take it back to the store and the problem is minor, the store can choose to do one of the following:

  • fix it within a reasonable time
  • give you a refund or
  • replace it.

The store doesn’t have to give you a refund for something which isn’t a “major” problem, but they can, so it’s a good idea to ask and be polite about it.

How to get a refund

Step 1:  Stop using the item as soon as possible.

Step 2:  Contact the shop as soon as possible.

  • You can do this in person by phone, email or social media message page.  Whatever happens, keep copies of any emails, letters and notes from any phone calls. If you call, ask to speak to someone high up in the business, like a manager.
  • Politely explain what has happened and then ask for what you want, a refund, replacement or repair. Check out our links to “Example complaint letters”  for more information on how to write a letter or email.
  • Act quickly! The law says that you have to return the goods within a time that’s reasonable – what’s reasonable depends on the particular thing you bought and what you use it for. 
  • Keep the receipt: you need to be able to show that you purchased the item, so if you don’t have the receipt, show a credit card statement or email/SMS which proves that you bought it from that supplier.

Step 3:  Send a formal letter – if you’ve tried talking to the business but are not happy with their response, write them a formal letter. In the letter, give the business a reasonable period of time to respond, like 14 days.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

Step 4:  If the business doesn’t respond to your letter, don’t panic. You still have options.

Contact the Fair Trading Office in your state or territory to make a complaint or call the national ACCC Infoline on 1300 302 502 for advice on what you can do.  You can also report a business that is doing the wrong thing to the ACCC here.

Returns

Unfortunately the Australian Consumer Laws do not generally apply to goods or services bought from an overseas website.

Step 1: Check the site’s return policy. Some sites, especially fashion retailers, allow you to return things that you have bought online for free, as long as you print out a postage slip and send it back within a certain amount of time.

Step 2: If there is no returns process, send an email or call them and explain the situation.  Check out our “Example complaint letters” section above for links to some templates you can use.  

Step 3: If you still can’t resolve the issue, or you don’t hear from the company after a reasonable time, call your bank and ask them to “chargeback” the amount to your credit card.

If you paid with PayPal, lodge a dispute with them as soon as possible.   You can find out how to do this here click “Report a problem with a purchase” at the bottom of the page.

Step 4: If you’re not happy with the outcome, you can also make a complaint to the consumer body in the country where the seller is based.  This is unlikely to get you a refund, but it may mean that someone stops them doing this to other consumers in the future.  To make a complaint to an overseas consumer body, file a report here.

Second hand and used goods

You have the same consumer rights even if you buy second hand goods from businesses. However, because they are pre-used, you can’t claim a refund for problems that:

  • the seller told you about
  • that you should have seen before buying the item, or
  • that were mentioned on the website where it was being sold. 
Case study

Jenny bought an expensive second-hand flat screen TV and the guy told her it was three years old and working well. She took it home and it stopped working after two weeks. She has the right to return the TV as she could have reasonably expected that the TV would work for more than 2 weeks.  If the shop refused to give her a refund, Jenny should make a complaint to the ACCC or the Fair Trading Office.

Receiving gifts

All of these laws also apply if you have been given something as a gift which you discover has a problem.

You will need to get the receipt or bank transaction from the person who gave you the gift before contacting the store.

What to do if something goes wrong

 

Example Lara bought leather shoes online. She emailed the company asking if they were waterproof and the company confirmed that they are.   When the shoes were delivered, she noticed that they were leather but were not waterproof. Does she have the right to return them?
Answer Lara can return them and get a refund because the product does not match the description and is protected by Australian Consumer Laws in the same way as if she had bought them in a store. The shoes should have also been waterproof as this was agreed to by the company at the time of the sale.

Buying things from eBay

If you bought items using Buy It Now from an Australian business, you are covered under Australia’s consumer law and you can get a refund, replacement or get it repaired, depending on the type of problem.  The best thing to do is probably work within eBay’s message and refunds system to solve the problem first. 

If you bought items using Buy It Now from an overseas business, while technically you may be covered by Australian law, it is very difficult to get the overseas company to follow our laws. But there are still things you can do. 

If you bought the items at Buy It Now from a private seller (someone who doesn’t usually sell things as their business but just sold one thing) you aren’t covered by most of the Australian consumer guarantees but you can still do things to try and sort things out.

If you buy things at an online eBay auction  and you bid for it and don’t use Buy It Now you are still covered by the Australian Consumer Law,  if you are buying from an Australian business, but not if you are buying from a private seller.

Resolving disputes on eBay

Step 1: Contact the seller and let them know what has happened and ask for what you want (refund or replacement). You can do this by signing into eBay here.

Most sellers would prefer to resolve issues directly because they do not want bad reviews or feedback.  It’s bad for business.

Step 2:   If you don’t hear back from the seller, or you’re unhappy with their behaviour, lodge a dispute with eBay. To find out how to do this, visit this site.

If you’ve paid by PayPal, Paymate or any credit card, eBay might be able to give you a refund if you lodge a dispute as soon as possible.

Step 3: You can also make a complaint to the Consumer Affairs/Fair Trading office.  If the seller is an Australian business, you can make a complaint to the Fair Trading Office where they are based or call the national ACCC Infoline on 1300 302 502 for advice on what you can do.

If the seller is located overseas, you can make a complaint to the consumer body in the country where the seller is based, but this will not help you solve your individual issue. However, it may mean that someone investigates and stops the company doing this to other consumers in the future.  To make a complaint to an overseas consumer body, file a report here.

Step 4: If you still haven’t resolved the issue after this, you should get independent legal advice.  You can contact Legal Aid.

Buying things from Gumtree

When you buy something on Gumtree from a random individual who doesn’t usually sell things, you aren’t covered by the Australian Consumer Law.  This is the case with many Gumtree purchases where the person is just selling an old couch, but they don’t run a couch shop. 

Resolving disputes on Gumtree

Even though you’re not covered by the Australian Consumer Law, you are still covered by the general law of contract.  This is because when you buy goods or services through a private sale, you are making a contract with the other person. The law says that the seller must follow the contract by providing you with the item you have purchased. So, there are things you can do if the thing you bought isn’t what the seller told you it was.  Here are the steps:

Step 1: Contact the seller

Send an email, text message or call the seller and politely explain your position.   It is a good idea to have a responsible adult around to help you.

  • Make sure that all communications you send to the seller are polite and friendly.  If the situation gets worse, you need to be able to show that you were calm and reasonable.
  • It is a good idea to make sure you do not communicate with the seller too frequently, or at an unreasonable time of day (if you are calling or texting the seller).  
  • It’s important that you keep a copy of all text messages, emails, and notes from phone calls with the date and time.

Step 2: Report to Gumtree

If the seller has been fraudulent and lied about what they were giving you, you can report it to Gumtree, but they will probably tell you to go and talk to the police   You can report to Gumtree here and send through all the information you have about the ad (including the ad number, if you have it) and/or the email address of the seller so that Gumtree can look into it.

Step 3: Lodge a dispute

If you have paid through PayPal or a credit card, lodge a dispute with PayPal or your bank. If the seller continues to refuse to refund the money, you can lodge a dispute with PayPal here.

Step 4: Get legal advice about suing the seller

If you buy something at a meet up or on Gumtree and it doesn’t work as the seller promised, you may be able to take legal action against the person in your local small claims court or a consumer tribunal. 

Keep in mind that there are tight time limits for suing someone, so you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible!  

Sometimes the agreements are for a small value and you need to think about whether it’s worthwhile to bother with legal action. You may not know the name or contact details of the person/people you bought from. However even if you don’t want to go to court, a lawyer at Legal Aid may be able to write a letter to the seller convincing him to send you the item or give you your money back.

Step 5: Report to police

If you think the seller has scammed you and stolen your money, you can also report this to the police. The seller might have committed a crime.  Crimes will vary from state to state, however it may fall within the crime of obtaining financial advantage by deception. 

You should provide the police with any evidence you have, including the ad, bank statements or receipts that show that money was transferred, and your communications with the seller.

You can make a police report by going to your local police station. 

When you go to put in a police report, it’s a good idea to bring:

  • a trusted adult to help you;
  • copies of any receipts and bank statements;
  • any email, text or phone calls between you and other person;
  • If relevant, the ad reference number or a printed copy of the ad on Gumtree;
  • what steps you have taken to try and resolve the issue.

Tell the police to put in a law enforcement request to Gumtree so they can get information about the seller.  They can do this here.

Staying safe online

  • Check the site: Search online for reviews from other shoppers on the products and website, as well as tips on how to save, for example, with discount codes for students.
  • Use a credit card or PayPal: These services offer protection in case the product isn’t delivered or there’s something wrong with it.
  •  
  • Don’t ever pay with a bank transfer or Western Union/MoneyGram Services.   There’s no protection if something goes wrong!
  • Extra fees: watch out for currency conversion fees, or credit card fees!
  • Security: Is the site secure?  Does it have a padlock and does it begin with https://

Is it a scam? Is there a real address and phone number and a “contact us” page for questions, disputes, complaints, exchanges and refunds?

Staying safe on Gumtree and other swap meets

  • Always take someone (preferably an adult) with you to look at an item and have someone at home if the buyer/seller is coming to you.
  • If you are the seller, do not send or part with any item until you have received the money.
  • Look very carefully at the item and ask lots of questions before buying it.
  • Gumtree does NOT have any protection programs (ignore emails or suggestions that says they do).
  • Keep copies of all your emails, receipts and text messages – you may need them to report to police or to sue the buyer.

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