Internet sweep signals crackdown on website businesses
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 laws.
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 consumers.
“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,” Rickard said.
Australian Consumer Law protects people against scams such as misleading or deceptive conduct, false or misleading representations, unconscionable conduct, unsolicited supplies and pyramid selling.
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 businesses.
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.