Internet shopping

Shop securely

Get the most out of internet shopping and avoid problems by doing some simple things to protect your money and your personal details.

Video: To buy or not to buy?

To buy or not to buy video

You'll never know 100% which sites you can trust, but online stores that are secure and value you as customer are usually a good start. Check out these useful tips to help you decide whether to go ahead and buy. 

Transcript: To buy or not to buy?

Check site security and privacy

Smart tip

Don't use public wi‑fi networks when online shopping as they are not secure.

Make sure a company's website is secure before you enter any personal information and only transact through trusted websites.

Check these things to see if the website is secure:

  • Does the website address at the top of the page start with https:// or just http://?
    (The 's' in https:// tells you the website is secure)
  • Does your web browser show a closed padlock similar to this? Lock
    (A padlock means the website is secure)
  • Does the company have complete contact details, including a street address?
    (Companies with a street address and contact details are more likely to be legitimate)

Use a secure computer and a secure network to protect your money when shopping online. Public computers and public networks are not secure.

Password protect your computer or your smartphone to prevent other people using your devices to shop online with your money.

Look for scams

Smart tip

If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake websites or fake products can be used to steal your money, your card, your bank details, or your identity. Try to avoid this by looking for clues that tell you it might not be the real deal:

  • Does the site ask for more personal information than they need?
  • Are their prices too good to be true?
  • Can you find more information about them somewhere else?

Your best protection against scammers is to find out more about how scams work so you'll have a better chance of spotting one. Visit the ACCC's SCAMwatch website.

Video: Kate gets scammed

Kate gets scammed video

Kate learns that not all sites can be trusted. Watch this video to see how Kate learns to recognise friendly websites.

Transcript: Kate gets scammed

Know your costs and rights as a buyer

Read all information carefully so you know the full cost of what you are buying online.

Check the following details:

  • Postage or delivery fees
  • Packaging or handling charges
  • Local currency costs, including currency conversion fees, if the purchase is from overseas
  • Import duty or taxes

Once you have all the costs it's easier to compare similar things on other websites or the price of buying the item in a shop. Remember, it may be harder to get a refund or exchange on an overseas purchase.

Some websites now have an option that lets you delay payment until after the goods have been received and you are happy with them. Find out more about interest-free online shopping.

International transaction fees 

Some credit cards charge an international transaction fee if you buy products from a company that is based overseas (even if you pay in Australian dollars), or is based in Australia but processes payments in another country. This fee is generally calculated as a percentage of the Australian dollar value of the transaction (usually up to 3.5%).

Even though an online shopping website with a domain name that ends in '.com.au' might appear to be an Australian business, they or their bank might be located overseas. This means you could still be charged an international transaction fee.

To check if you will be charged this fee, read the terms and conditions on the company's website - or call or email them directly.

You can also check the terms and conditions of your credit card to find out if and when you will be charged international transaction fees. Some cards don't charge these fees so you could think about switching cards if you regularly shop online from companies with overseas connections. 

Westpac has refunded around $20 million to customers for not clearly disclosing the types of credit card transactions that attract foreign transaction fees. For more information, see ASIC's media release.

You can use comparison websites to check the fees and features of credit cards, but they do have some limitations. See our article on using comparison websites for more information.

Online auctions

Different auction sites have different rules and the type of auction may affect your legal rights as a buyer.

Check the terms and conditions of the auction website and find out:

  • If the business running the auction site has any responsibility for what you buy or whether it's just between you and the seller
  • What fees and charges you will have to pay
  • What to do if there is a dispute or you need to make a complaint

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has a great list of online auction tips.

Record your purchases

Keep a record of online purchases, including photos and descriptions of items you buy. In particular:

  • Make sure you have received an email confirmation of your purchase before closing your browser
  • Make sure you have a record of your receipt or other reference numbers
  • Check your settings for online website accounts to see how long your transaction history is kept
  • Check your bank account, credit card or other account to make sure you have been charged correctly

Credit card chargeback

Buying with a credit card rather than a debit card may give you extra protection if you don't receive what you bought. You can ask your bank for a chargeback.

A chargeback is a return of funds from a retailer, or service provider, to your bank account or credit card, often initiated by your bank. When the bank has investigated, it may reverse the transaction - meaning you get the money back. However, it depends on the circumstances. Check with your bank.

PayPal chargeback

If your credit card is linked to your PayPal account, you may be entitled to a chargeback for PayPal purchases.  However, this option is only available if you are not satisfied with the outcome of PayPal's dispute resolution process.

Solving problems

Smart tip

If you want to ask for a chargeback, don't delay - there may be a time limit on getting your money back.

Sometimes, even when you're careful, things do go wrong.

Find out what your rights are from the ACCC's online shopping webpages or your local consumer protection or fair trading organisation.

If you don't receive what you paid for, in good condition, there are steps you can take:

  1. Check the seller's website for details on how to contact them or make a complaint
  2. Contact your bank or payment service provider about protections such as chargebacks that may apply
  3. Contact the ACCC or your consumer protection or fair trading organisation in your state to see if they can help you sort things out with the seller

Shopping online can be a convenient way to buy the goods and services you want, but you do need to be careful and take a few extra precautions so you're not putting your money at risk.


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Last updated: 12 Sep 2016