Consumer Rights

Reporter: Laticia Gibson

She is a humiliated shopper awarded more than $80,000. At the Target store in Burwood, a young mum Julia Photi was accused of shoplifting, dragged into an office manhandled and strip searched. They said she had stolen some razors - they were wrong. But don't think this couldn't happen to you during the Christmas shopping frenzy.

"Security guards can only search you if you agree to be searched, they can only detain you if they see you commit a crime, if those things do not happen they have no more powers than the average citizen, they certainly do not have the powers of a police officer" says Christopher Zinn. While Julia fought for her rights and won, there's a whole lot more the shops will 'try on' unsuspecting customers.

"You need to know your rights all the time because you never quite know when it is going to be called upon for you to put your foot down and say 'no I am entitled to this" says Christopher Zinn. Christopher Zinn from Choice says the silly season for impulse buying can bring strife for unsuspecting consumers with illegal practices not uncommon.

"At Christmas and sale time you see this thing called bait and switch scams and basically the bait is that they offer some product like a washing machine or a TV for $5 that is the bait, they get you in of course it is gone it has been sold and the switch is that they try and sell you another product which actually costs more" says Christopher.

The key is to forget store policies but know the law and your rights before purchasing. "A lay-by is actually a binding contract with you and the store so again make sure you have things in writing, description of the goods, how long they are lay-byed, how often you might make payment, what those payments should be and if for any reason you do not want to go through the deal how much money you might actually sacrifice or loose as a result of it" advises Christopher.

We spend more than $300 billion a year on retail therapy, with most of us about to do our major shop, spending an average of $500 each on gifts for Christmas. And after the festivities are over, at least one out of ten of these gifts will be returned to the store.

So what are your rights when it comes to refunds, repairs, and exchanges? "You see this sign 'no refunds' that is actually not worth the paper it is written on... if what you've bought isn't what you've promised in terms of quality or any defects in it then you can get a refund no messing around" says Christopher.

Signs like these are actually illegal but before you rush off to return faulty items, know this - the retailer is responsible, not the manufacturer. Christopher says "It's not your job to take it back there it's there job to pick it up and fix it and return it to you and bear all the cost." What about those extended warranties?

"We say extended warranties aren't always worth it, you pay extra for them.. there's a warranty that is normally 12 months after you purchase a product but there is also what we call an implied warranty that you get under law. So for example if that TV malfunctions 4 months after the one year warranty that the store give you, you still have an implied warranty that means that they should fix it" adds Christopher. So before you rush out and fill the Christmas stockings, remember where you stand.

If you feel your rights have been ignored and you aren't getting resolve with the retailer, you can take your complaint to the Department of Fair Trading.

Department of Fair Trading:

Website: www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au

Choice Magazine:

Website: www.choice.com.au