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August 19, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying Down the Law: D—Would Not Trade Again

You’ve just handed over all your hard-earned living costs to some girl you’ve never met, and resigned yourself to the fact that you’ll be living off mi goreng for the rest of week, just to get your hands on that babein’ KW-inspired dress. Then she tells you it “got lost in the post”, and is suddenly un-contactable. Do you (a) start a witch-hunt and badmouth her to everyone else on Walk in Wardrobe? (b) leave the group and accept the fact that you’re going to have to get out of bed and go into an actual shop if you want new clothes? (c) lawyer her?

Unfortunately, if you’re buying off an online auction site, like Facebook’s Walk In Wardrobe or Trade Me, you’re not protected by the Consumer Guarantees Act or the Fair Trading Act—they don’t cover transactions between private individuals.

That means that your only real option is a claim under contract law. What that means is that when you bid $40 plus postage for my top that has “a small makeup stain but you can barely see it”, you’re making an ‘offer’ (that’s the technical lawyerly term). If I ‘accept’ your offer, we have a ‘contract’. The $40 is called ‘consideration’ (contracts aren’t binding unless you give something valuable in exchange). That means that if I never get around to sending you the top, or if it’s a different size to what I said it was and it doesn’t fit you, I’ve breached the contract.

You might be able to get a remedy under the Contractual Remedies Act—but first, you should try to resolve the dispute by talking to the other person like a calm and collected adult, rather than posting “This BITCH ripped me off” and watching the likes rack up. If that doesn’t work, some sites like Trade Me have their own dispute-resolution processes.

If that fails, you can go to the Disputes Tribunal. Make sure you keep a record of any communications you had with the other person, and of any money you paid over—you’ll need it as evidence of what actually happened. To win, you’d have to show that: you were induced to buy the item because of what the seller said about it; that what the seller said was untrue; and that you lost money because of the seller’s false statement—maybe you had to spend money on fixing the item. It’s important that you keep a record of any communications you had with the seller, and any transactions you made, in case you need it as evidence in a dispute.

You don’t have many rights as a buyer in an online auction, and it’ll cost you $45 to go to the Disputes Tribunal—so be careful who you give your money to, and check whether anyone else has posted feedback about the seller.

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