Online shopping

Stay safe

Whether we are doing the weekly food shop, booking holidays or buying that special gift, more and more of us are turning to the internet to buy goods.

Here are a few simple tips to help you stay safe when you shop online:

Check website and computer security

Smart tip

A secure payment site should have a picture of a closed padlock somewhere on the page. An open padlock means a webpage is not secure.

Stay away from online stores that do not offer secure transactions. Look for an 's' in the URL after the http to indicate it's secure (https://www.).

Paying with a credit card can also offer you an extra level of protection, including the right to a 'charge back' if you fall victim to fraud. Talk to your financial institution if this happens to you.

Make sure your computer is secure by keeping your operating system and browsers current and use a good, up-to-date security or antivirus program.

Video: Online selling scams

Video about online selling scams

Stevie, a reformed scammer, explains how online selling scams work and how to avoid them. This video was produced by Consumer Affairs Victoria as part of the Stevie's Scam School series.

Our avoiding scams webpage explains how to stay one step ahead of the scammers.

Transcript: Online selling scams

Check on the business and the product

Buy only from websites that you know and trust. If you have not dealt with the business before, do an online search to check recommendations and feedback from other customers.

Check that the company has a physical address and phone number. You can check their details an online phone book. If the company operates from overseas, you might have trouble getting a refund or exchange.
An email address is also useful to know so you can contact them if things go wrong.

Products that are commonly 'sold' online as scams are smartphones and tablets, pets, pedigree dogs, horses and saddles, motorbikes, cars and boats. Be particularly careful when buying these items online.

Check the fees

Some websites charge fees for their online service or for using a credit card.  Booking fees, service fees, handling fees, payment processing fees or shipping could be added to the cost of your order. Before you pay for your online shopping, check whether any additional fees have been added, and consider whether you're willing to pay them. If you do not want to go ahead, you can cancel your transaction before you press the payment button.  

International transaction fees

If you pay with a credit card, you could be charged an international transaction fee if you buy products from a company that is either based overseas (even if you buy the product 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 '' 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.

Ban on excessive surcharge fees

From 1 September 2016 large businesses will be banned from charging excessive payment surcharge fees on debit, credit and prepaid card transactions. This means a business cannot charge a customer more than what it actually costs them to process a payment. These rules will apply to other businesses from 1 September 2017.

For more information see credit, debt and prepaid card surcharges on the ACCC's website.

Check the warranty, cancellation and delivery dates

Read the terms and conditions of your purchase before you buy.

Closely check for:

  • warranty, refund and cancellation policies
  • expected delivery dates
  • the full cost of your purchase including shipping and handling, currency conversion fees, and taxes

If the full cost is expensive then it may be cheaper for you to buy the product locally. And if a product looks very cheap, be suspicious. Scammers will give cheaper prices than other sites to attract victims. Check the price against other websites.

Video: Internet shopping explained in memes

Video about online shopping.

This ACCC video explains how to shop smarter online using popular internet memes.

Transcript: Internet shopping explained in memes

Pay safely and keep records of your purchase

Keep a copy of any forms, emails, documents or webpages you have filled in, read or received. They are a record of the sale and will be useful if something goes wrong. If something does go wrong you may be entitled to a chargeback. This means a transaction can be reversed in some cases where the merchant or shop does not provide you with the goods you paid for.

Don't pay for the goods outside the website's official payment system. Scammers will ask you to pay up-front via money order or international wire transfer. They will also send you to fake payment website so always check the URL.  

PayPal purchases

If your credit card is linked to your PayPal account, you may be entitled to a chargeback if you have problems with a PayPal purchase. However, you must go through PayPal's dispute resolution process first. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of this process, then you can explore whether you are entitled to a chargeback.

Check your bank statements

Check your credit card statement every month to make sure your purchases are correct and there are no charges for things you didn't buy.

Contact your card provider or bank as soon as you notice anything unusual. See more information about unauthorised transactions on your account.

Protect your privacy

Don't give out your personal information unless you know why it is required and how it will be used. This information will be on the website's privacy page. If this information is not provided, don't buy from the website.

You should decline to give any personal information that is not compulsory to buy the product.

Keep your personal information safe when you shop online and always use official payment options.

Related links

Last updated: 12 Sep 2016