On this page:
Misleading or deceptive conduct explained
'Conduct' includes actions and statements, such as:
- any representation.
If a business creates an overall misleading impression about the price, value or quality of consumer products or services, it is likely to be breaking the law.
It is the business’s actions and statements that matter – not their intentions. A business can mislead and deceive, without intending to.
Note: The case studies used on this page are examples only; outcomes may differ in individual cases.
Disclaimers and small print
A business cannot rely on disclaimers buried in small print as an excuse for misleading or deceptive conduct.
'Puffery' is not considered misleading or deceptive. It refers to wildly exaggerated, fanciful or vague claims that no reasonable person could possibly treat seriously or find misleading.
If a business advertises an incorrect price by mistake, they are not obliged to sell their product at that price. However, they must withdraw the product from sale until the price is corrected.
If a customer places an order at an incorrect price, the business must inform the customer of their mistake before processing the order and give them the choice to continue with their order at the correct price, or cancel it. Alternatively, the business can choose to honour the discounted price as a sign of good will.
If a price seems unusually low, the customer can prevent any issues by asking the business if the price displayed is correct.
Products that do not match their description
Most products must match their description - for example, on the label, in a TV commercial, in photos, or the item description in print or online advertisements.
If the product is significantly different from the description, this may be considered a major problem and the customer is entitled to a refund.
A business can break the law by failing to give relevant information to a customer.
Silence can be misleading or deceptive when, for example:
- one person fails to alert another to facts known only to them, and the facts are relevant to a decision
- important details a person should know are not conveyed to them
- a change in circumstance meant information already provided was incorrect.
Whether silence is misleading or deceptive will depend on the circumstances of each case.
Predictions and opinions
A statement about the future that does not turn out to be true is not necessarily misleading or deceptive. But promises, opinions and predictions may be misleading and deceptive if, for example, the person making the statement:
- knew it was untrue or incorrect
- did not care whether it was true or not
- had no reasonable grounds for making it.
Exceptions for information providers
'Information providers' include media organisations, such as:
- radio stations
- television stations
- publishers of newspapers or magazines (including online).
Information providers are exempt from liability for misleading or deceptive conduct. There are some exceptions to this, including:
- where the matter relates to products or services supplied by the information provider
- the publication of advertisements.
Information providers may still be liable for publishing an advertisement that is misleading or deceptive. However, they may not be responsible if they can prove that they:
- are in the business of publishing or arranging for the publication of advertisements
- received the advertisement for publication in the ordinary course of this business; and
- did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the advertisement was misleading or deceptive.
Disputes and penalties
For advice on resolving disputes between a customer and a business, view our Resolve your complaint or complaint section.
Misleading or deceptive conduct may lead to civil remedies, including:
- compensatory orders
- orders for non-party consumers
- non-punitive orders.
Criminal sanctions do not apply, but penalties may apply if the conduct breaches the Australian Consumer Law in other ways.
Where to next: