by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
A decade ago, the Internet was described by science fiction writer Bruce Sterling as "a true, modern, functional anarchy". Since then, we have discovered that, although the anarchy of the Internet may give us more freedom than we have in the real world, it also gives us less protection against the antisocial elements of our online society. This has been one of the motivators behind increased regulation of the Internet that many national governments, including Australia's, have undertaken in the last few years.
As a result, although you can still easily get caught by online scams, there are things you can do to protect yourself, and some places to turn when things go wrong. Classic examples of on-line scams include:
In Australia, you can report on-line financial scams such as share offers and investment schemes to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), and other scams to your local Department of Consumer Protection or equivalent body.You can also protect yourself by only dealing with well-recognised and licensed vendors, auction houses and casinos.
Before dealing on-line with a company that you haven't heard from, ask around in a newsgroup or discussion forum to see what other people's experiences with the company have been. Also, pay for on-line transactions using a credit card with a low credit limit. If you are cheated, you may be able to get the credit card company to reverse the transaction.