The 12 “clicks” of Christmas

Published On 05/12/2012 | By Peta Stevenson | Consumer protection

While the level of festive cheer is rising, this is also a time of year when things can go wrong in the rush to find the perfect gift.  At this special time of year we share some tips on how to avoid online shopping pitfalls, dodgy products and other shopping scams.

ACMA research shows our confidence in online shopping is increasing apace with usage, but a significant proportion of shoppers remain subject to cybercrime.

Here are a few plays to avoid, and tips that each and every one of us can benefit from this Christmas:

1.  Flying low

Airline scams have already hit the headlines these holidays.  Jetstar has reported scam emails featuring fake itineraries, which can spread computer viruses.

Especially unfortunate for those people that were expecting a legitimate itinerary, it’s important to note your airline’s usual practice: Jetstar advises that it no longer sends its itineraries as PDFs.

2.  Group buying holiday hold-ups

When planning a holiday, take care when purchasing from group buying websites such as Living Social, Cudo and Groupon.  If the price seems ridiculously low for the high season, it is probably too good to be true.

Many suppliers impose date restrictions on holiday packages sold through group buying websites so they can’t be used during the festive season or other holiday periods.  What may be good value for the rest of the year could prove unusable when you want to travel.

3.  Gift card scams

Facebook has recently been targeted by a number of gift card scams that are circulating under its auspices, including for reputable brands such as Coles, Woolworths and Harvey Norman.

This new incarnation of ‘phishing’ attempts to obtain personal information by directing Facebook users to websites by offering free vouchers.  The retailers confirm they never request personal details by means of unsolicited communications – whether email or social media messages.

Always check the retailer’s genuine site to confirm the details of any offer.

4 .  Jingle Bells – jewellers fined

Everyone loves a Christmas bargain, but make sure you are not being duped into buying something at a price that is available all year round.

Any savings on goods advertised with Was/Now price claims must be real and genuine.  The “was” price must have been offered for a reasonable period prior to the “now” offer commencing, rather than being an inflated price.  Jeweller Zamel’s found out the hard way, and is expecting a penalty in its Christmas stocking.

5.  Ho Ho No to the BOGO

Buy One Get One Free – sounds attractive but if you don’t need the second item, it may not be the deal for you.  Think about the cost per item.

6.  Santa’s checking his seatbelt twice

When purchasing gifts, consider not only whether they are age-appropriate but also check that they are not products that have been subject to a recall.  Already this year, a number of Christmas lights have been recalled.  Check out the list here.

Product Safety Australia has also issued a safety checklist for Christmas.  While some of its segues are a little dubious (who knew Rudolph’s red nose was caused by a dart gun injury), its tips remain valuable.  While you’re there, why not also download the recalls app for Android or iPhone.

7.  Look the gift voucher horse in the mouth

Gift vouchers can be useful for those difficult to buy for family members, but take care when buying gift cards to ensure that they have appropriate validity periods and clearly state the expiry date.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading received 218 complaints in 2011 relating to gift cards, vouchers and certificates due to misrepresentations about how to redeem a card or what to do if a card was lost or stolen.

8 .  Interest free? Scrooge is always after a profit

Many retailers are offering interest free deals this festive season.  Remember that these deals are however not cost free and can result in ongoing fees and in some cases higher costs.

ASIC warns that there are hidden fees and charges that could trip you up and provides a number of tips.  And always read the fine print in any credit contract.

9.  Charity begins at home

Many charities conduct specific fundraising drives or donation programs during the holiday season.  These are worthy causes and we should all be considering how we can assist those less fortunate.

However, like all promotions, take care that you are dealing with the proper entity – don’t follow suspect links in emails or social media messages, and remember you can always donate by phone or in person.  See the list of tips prepared by the UK’s Charity Commission here.

10.  Beware bait advertising

Seen that must-have Christmas gift advertised at a price that’s too good to be true, then find out it’s sold out in-store?

When retailers promote goods at a specified price, they must ensure that they have sufficient stock to satisfy reasonable anticipated demand.  Christmas trends can sometimes mean demand for particular goods is much higher than honestly expected and a retailer can genuinely run out of stock.  However, promoting discounted prices where a retailer has reason to believe they will not be able to supply the goods at the price advertised for a reasonable period can amount to bait advertising – with criminal consequences.

11.  Dishonest dealers

We all love to get out and enjoy events over summer, but make sure your tickets will get you in the door!

NSW Fair Trading has seen evidence of organised criminals getting involved in selling fake tickets, and provides some hints on how to safely buy tickets online.

12.  The gift that keeps on giving – consumer guarantees

Since 1 January 2011, Australian consumers have been protected by the new national consumer guarantees framework.  All goods must be of acceptable quality – they must be reasonably:

  • fit for all the purposes for which goods of that kind are commonly supplied
  • acceptable in appearance and finish
  • free from defects
  • safe
  • durable

Know and use your rights to a repair, replacement or refund if you are not satisfied.

Use the ACCC’s Repair, Replace, Refund problem solver to assess your options, or make use of Consumer Affairs Victoria’s MyShopRights app when you are in line at the register.

Remember that when you are purchasing from an overseas website, Australian consumer law protections may not apply and it may be more difficult to get a refund or replacement.

Peta Stevenson & David Crino

Image credit Dotty Finlow at Flikr

About The Author

is a partner in the Sydney office of King & Wood Mallesons where she specialises in competition litigation with experience in a wide range of jurisdictions. Peta also advises clients on the application of the anti-competitive conduct, consumer protection and access provisions of the Competition & Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and related state legislation. In 2001/02 she undertook her LLM at the University of Cambridge, during which time she developed a passionate if fleeting interest in rowing.

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