Online conveniences can lull buyers into a false sense of security

By Andrew Goode

The internet has revolutionised the way in which we buy and sell, and the way we work in numerous businesses.

Much of my communication now comes and goes through email rather than the post. 

It has also changed the way we buy and sell products. I recently sold a car through the internet and then bought a replacement car that way. It was very handy being able to see what was available on the market, compare details, photographs, vehicle history, etc. No need to kick as many tyres. 

I also went on a holiday last year and everywhere I stayed was booked after reading reviews on Trip Advisor where I could also view the location, photographs of the hotel, recommendations from guests as to the best rooms, etc. The hotels that I stayed at pretty much matched the expectation I had when I booked them.

There is a similar tool available to work out where the best seats are on a plane which I also found very handy as it helped me get a good night's sleep on a long haul from the US to Sydney.

You can, however, be lulled into a false sense of security when dealing on the internet. Recently we had a situation where a person had paid a substantial deposit to buy some goods from interstate relying only on photographs on the internet and a phone discussion with the vendor. When the person travelled interstate to collect the goods they were nothing like he imagined, and the seller said he would refund the deposit but subsequently didn’t, nor did he return calls. 

The recovery of a deposit in those circumstances is very difficult as firstly you have to locate the seller, who may have shifted address. 

Assuming you can locate the seller you then need to issue a summons out of the appropriate court, which could be a local court in SA or an interstate court depending on where the contract was made.

The court summons has to be served, the matter is then listed for hearing, and the court has to make a determination as to whether the internet description of the goods was misleading. 

Assuming you succeed, you then have to enforce the judgment and if the seller has spent your money and has no other assets, then as an old saying goes ‘you cannot get blood out of a stone’.

The warning is to take care when dealing on the internet as the goods do not always match the description on the internet. The seller may of course not even have the goods and be carrying out a scam. If you pay a deposit it should be a minimal sum, and nothing more should be paid until you are satisfied that the goods match their description, the seller actually owns the goods, they are in good working order and the transfer papers are handed to you. 

Of course, if you were buying a motor vehicle, caravan, farm machinery or similar then it is always a good idea to have an inspection by a reputable mechanic before you pay your money. And do not forget to do a Personal Property Securities Register search to ensure that the goods are not mortgaged to a bank or another financier. 

The internet can be a very useful tool but in some circumstances it can be a dangerous one.

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Details: Andrew Goode  e: agoode@mellorolsson.com.au or Ph: 8414 3400

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