Vic Govt aims to make Web shopping safe

Ever considered buying goods online but had concerns about handing over your credit card details? Worried about the legitimacy of e-commerce sites? In an attempt to overcome e-commerce user fears, Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) has announced a new Web site to teach consumers how to shop safely on the Internet.

Information on the new ShopSafe site is divided into nine chapters, each providing useful advice on what to look for when entering an online shop. Originally conceived by the Communications Branch of CAV and created by Victorian multimedia design company Acumentum, some of the issues covered by the site include calculating the total cost of online purchases, interpreting user terms and conditions, and tips on how to check the validity of the e-commerce company.

Consumer Affairs Minister Christine Campbell said ShopSafe is aimed at helping people with little or no experience with e-commerce to gain the necessary knowledge they need to make safe purchases online.

Campbell said users are often nervous about buying goods online.

"Many are concerned about the safety of using credit cards on the Internet," she said.

"We have placed a high priority on education, as informed consumers are smart shoppers."

Campbell said the proliferation of e-commerce sites overseas has led to a dramatic increase in the number of consumer complaints. While the CAV's tally of consumer complaints against online sales and auction sites is still small (38 complaints between April and September 2002), the department says the numbers are on the rise.

According to ACCC consumer commissioner Jennifer McNeill, complaints received by the national consumer group in regards to e-commerce issues are indicative of the level of discomfort Australians have with buying goods online.

Since July 2001, the ACCC has received 3317 inquiries or complaints relating to e-commerce. Of these, 256 were in relation to Internet scams, she said. Other common concerns involved competition issues, contractual disputes relating to broadband services, and complaints about the quality of Internet services.

Both Campbell and McNeill's comments echo those expressed by PC World readers in a recent online PC World poll. Over 65 per cent of respondents to the poll said they did not shop online because they were concerned about passing credit card details over the Internet.

The new ShopSafe site, Campbell said, will address such concerns with e-commerce by educating users before they reach the complaint stage.

"CAV believes that prevention is better than cure when it comes to consumer complaints so the aim is to inform consumers before they try online shopping," Campbell said.

As well as information, the site features a ShopSafe quiz, testing users on what to look for when entering an e-commerce site. Questions are based on the information chapters. There's also a dictionary of terms related not only to e-commerce, but also to the Internet.

CAV says it is currently in discussions to extend the ShopSafe service nationally.

"The states, in particular, are interested in trading off development costs by sharing products rather than each state reinventing the wheel," a department spokesperson said.

ShopSafe is just one of many initiatives CAV has launched as part of its E-Commerce Consumer Protection Strategy to increase the uptake of e-commerce in Victoria. The department is also working with Australia-wide groups on future policies for m-commerce, Web seals and e-commerce consumer protection regulation.

As well as the online site, CAV has released a free CD-ROM version of ShopSafe. Those wanting to obtain a copy can send an e-mail to consumer@justice.vic.gov.au or phone 1300 558 181.

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Nadia Cameron

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