Buying Things

Disclaimer: The material in this factsheet is a general guide only. It is not legal advice. For legal advice about your own particular situation we encourage you to call the Free Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424. The legal information was correct at the time of publishing (March 2016), but may change without notice.



The Legal Services Commission gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Victorian Legal Aid and the National Children’s and Youth Legal Centre in allowing the Legal Services Commission of South Australia to use and adapt existing content.


In this factsheet you will find information on:

  • Buying things,contracts, exchanges and refunds, and buying something dodgy
  • Buying things online
  • Mobile phone contracts
  • Where to get help 

What is a contract?

A contract is an agreement between two parties which the law says must be carried out. Most contracts do not have to be in writing. You can have an oral contract. For example, when you buy something, you and the seller have made a contract with each other whether you signed anything or not. But if you’re buying a car, you do have to sign a written agreement.


Am I old enough to agree to a contract?

If you’re under 18, you have to stick to a contract if:

  • The contract is about things you need to live, like food, housing, clothing or medicine
  • It helps you with employment or education;
  • The contract has already happened.

I’ve been told I need a guarantor. What is a guarantor?

Because under-18-year-olds don’t have to stick to contracts except for the reasons above, shops and companies that lend money may not let you use a credit card or borrow money without a guarantor. A guarantor is someone aged 18 or over who promises that you will stick to your side of the contract and that they’ll pay if you don’t. If you don’t pay, the seller or moneylender can take the guarantor to court as well as taking legal action against you.

When can I exchange things I’ve bought or get a refund? What if they say ‘no refunds’?

The shhop owner does not legally have to give you a refund or exchange for things that you have bought just because you change your mind. If you are not sure about buying something, talk to the sales assistant, Tell them what you want the goods for and find out if it is what you need.

Some stores, like bigger department stores, will give you a refund or exchange goods if you change your mind, but it is up to the store. The store does have to give you a refund if the goods are faulty or if the sales assistant told you the goods were suitable for a particular purpose but they weren’t. However, when you buy something it is always worth asking the sales assistant if you can bring it back and get a refund or exchange if the goods aren’t right or if you change your mind. If the sales assistant says yes, then you should be able to get a refund or exchange. Keep the receipt as proof of your purchase.

Many shops have a sign near the cash register about their policy on exchanges and refunds. A sign that says ‘No refunds’ is illegal. Even a policy saying ‘No refunds on sale items’ is breaking the law.

A shop must give you a refund for goods that are faulty, regardless of whether you bought the goods on sale or not.

If you think you should get a refund but the shop refuses to give it to you, you can complain to Consumer and Business Services or to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Buying and selling between family members or friends (called ‘private sales’)

The laws about exchanging goods and getting a refund don’t apply to sales between private individuals, like friends or family. Make sure you buy what you want and that it works before you pay for it.

Buying goods that turn out to be ‘dodgy’ or stolen

If you’re buying things from friends or privately, like at a market or second-hand stall, check that the person selling the goods has the right to sell them. This means that the goods aren’t stolen. It’s worth asking for proof of ownership or evidence that the seller has authority to sell. If the goods are stolen, the original owner may be able to claim them back. If you are buying an expensive item, like a car, you can check the Personal Properties Securities Register to make sure that the owner is not still paying it off.

If you know, or even think, that something is stolen, and you buy it, you might be also be in trouble with the law.

Buying things online

If buying from an online store, check what that store’s refund or return policy is before you pay. You will usually have to pay return postage costs if you want to exchange or return an item purchased from an online store.

When you buy something, make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for. Do you pay for it once or do you have to make repeat payments?

Be very careful of sites that want you to keep making payments. Think carefully about paying for something over time, it may not be worth the extra cost.

Some sites have services that can help you sort out disputes with sellers, for example, if what you bought doesn’t match the item’s description.

Other private online sales can be risky. The person you are buying from may live in another state or overseas so getting your money back may be hard. You might be able to get help from your credit card provider, if you have one. Some providers have services to help when online purchases go wrong.

Mobile Phone contracts

Am I old enough to get a mobile phone contract?

You have to be 18 to sign a mobile phone contract. Often young people ask their parents to sign the contract. This means your parents have to pay if you can’t. Technically the contract can be transferred into your name once you’re 18. In reality this can be hard as you need to have a credit check, more than one form of ID and a credit card.

You can get a prepaid phone at any age.

If you’re thinking about getting a mobile phone, remember:

There’s no such thing as a free phone. There’s always a catch. The cost of ‘free’ handsets may be included in the monthly bill or may mean higher call costs. Check the contract for hidden costs. Shop around and get advice.

Work out if you can afford to pay the minimum monthly payment for the whole contract period, which can be as long as three years. Once you sign up, it’s hard to break the contract.

The person who signs the contract is responsible for paying the bills or making sure the bills get paid.

Read and understand the contract. If you don’t understand it, don’t sign it.
Before you sign up you must be given a Critical Information Summary which tells you all the costs of other services.
If your phone is stolen, lost or cut-off because of non-payment of bills, you still have to pay out the rest of your contract.

   All calls are timed. So if you talk for ages, bills will be expensive. One way of making sure you don’t end up with a huge bill is to get a prepaid account.

If you download ringtones or pictures to your mobile, check it is a one-off download and not a subscription service that sends you more ringtones or pictures that you have to pay for. Keep the ‘unsubscribe’ information so you can stop the service.

If your phone gets stolen, ring your phone company immediately. You pay for all calls until the phone is reported missing.

If you buy a second-hand phone make sure it is unlocked. Some carriers charge to unlock phones.

If you want to take your phone to school, check first if there is a rule about mobile phones. Some schools don’t let students take phones to school.


Where to get more help and information

  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – call 1300 302 502 or visit
  • Consumer and Business Services (for complaints about traders or to find out more about your rights): call the Advice Line on 131 882  - visit
  • Personal Property Securities Register – visit
  • Energy and Water Ombudsman – for complaints about bills (electricity, water, energy, gas etc.) call 1800 665 565
  • Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman – for complaints about telephone or internet service in Australia – call  1800 062 058 or visit

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