Online businesses are being targeted by the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission as part of an international
crackdown to make sure they comply with consumer protection
The ACCC mounted an Internet sweep on Australian based online
traders in the past few weeks checking whether they were using
confusing or misleading fine print to avoid their obligations to
"All too often fine print is used to trap unwary consumers
and force them to accept substandard products," ACCC deputy
chair Delia Rickard said.
It examined website terms and conditions as part of an ongoing
campaign to make sure both consumers and businesses are aware that
the internet is not immune to consumer protection laws.
"Too many people are unaware that they have the same rights
when shopping online as they do in a bricks and mortar store,"
Similarly, many businesses aren't aware that their
obligations under laws that apply to sales in shops or deals done
in offices also apply to transactions done online. The most common
breaches are in purchase and refund terms, privacy policies, and
Australian Consumer Law protects people against scams such as
misleading or deceptive conduct, false or misleading
representations, unconscionable conduct, unsolicited supplies and
Business people who sell online might not even be aware that
what they are doing online breaches these laws. Anyone who does
business online would be wise to get legal advice on whether the
terms and conditions they are using in their Internet dealings
comply with consumer protection laws.
Penalties for breaking these laws can be stiff. Fines can be as
high as $200,000 for individuals and $1.1 million for
A consumer can take their own legal action against a business
they believe has breached these consumer protection laws and if
successful could win damages, injunctions and other orders.
The ACCC sweep conducted in September was part of an annual
international action coordinated with 40 consumer protection
agencies around the world which form the International Consumer
Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN).
The ACCC said consumer protection laws are difficult to enforce
outside Australia. Consumers should be careful and do their
homework before shopping in offshore online stores.
People who believe they are victims of misleading online conduct
or Internet scams based overseas can report it to the international
consumer site www.econsumer.gov that is
monitored by ICPEN members.
And to avoid your online business getting a visit from ACCC, get
legal advice to make sure you are complying with consumer
protection laws. Breaching those laws could lead not only to heavy
fines, but also damaging publicity.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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