Electronic contracts are governed by the same rules of offer and acceptance as traditional contracts, see Agreement. Where a consumer clicks on an ‘I Agree’ or ‘Purchase’ button on a website they are effectively agreeing to a contract.
Contracts formed within Australia, that is, where the offer and the acceptance occur within Australia, are subject to Australian consumer legislation and are consumers have the same rights as those formed in person (i.e. non-electronically).
However, where a contract is formed in more than one country (e.g. the offer is from the United States and acceptance is from Australia), there may be complications in the event of a dispute as the law of more than one country may apply.
If there is no agreement about where a contract was formed the courts will first determine whether there is a term or condition that deals with this. In the absence of such a term or condition, the court will then look at all of the terms and conditions as well as the circumstances under which the contract was formed to see if there is any guidance as to which country’s laws apply.
As with any dispute you should contact the seller directly (whether by telephone or in writing or email) to advise them of your problem. Details of an individual seller’s dispute resolution process are often available on their website.
If not satisfied with the outcome of the dispute resolution process, the next step is to contact the consumer protection agency in the relevant state where the contract was formed (if the contract was wholly formed in Australia) or consumer protection agency in the country where the contract was made in the case of an overseas transaction. See below for a list of Australian consumer protection agencies. The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) provides a list of consumer protection agencies on its website at www.econsumer.gov .
If payment has been made by credit card, it may be possible to have a transaction reversed in some circumstances (e.g. where it was unauthorised or for a transaction that was not fufilled) so you may also want to contact your financial institution.
Australian consumer protection agencies
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.