TORONTO — The Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer and Business Affairs is planning to introduce legislation that would require clear contracts on Internet transactions.

At a public forum to educate the public on Internet fraud

Monday, Consumer and Business Affairs minister Tim Hudak said the legislation may also require vendors to disclose a brick and mortar address so that consumers know whether they buying from across the street or from around the world.

“”Our new legislation would strengthen enforcement and penalties for these scams and including those on the Internet,”” Hudak said who plans to introduce it this session, but doesn’t know when it could be passed. “”We’re going to increase the maximum fines from $25,000 to $50,000 for individuals, and more than doubling from $100,000 to $250,000 for corporations.””

Hudak said people have to use their common sense to avoid being ripped off online. The government’s awareness campaign focuses on a combination of knowing what resources are available and encouraging consumers to trust your gut.

“”The ministry is hearing more about scams that involve the Internet. We’ve had 505 complaints from Ontario consumers about Internet transactions in the last 12 months,”” Hudak said, but added there are cases of old wine in new bottles — traditional scams on a new medium.

To get a better picture of the current state of affairs the ministry conducted a three-day “”surf and sweep”” operation earlier this year where it looked for scams. The end result, Hudak said, are five companies under investigation another facing charges in Ontario courts.

To help keep people up to date, the ministry’s Web site will be used to post case studies and examples of popular scams, and those who feel they’ve been cheated can report a business through an online form. Hudak said the best defence, however, is following the old adage: if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Boston-based The Yankee Group analyst Matthew Kovar agreed, adding there is no fool-proof technological answer to protect consumers. He said the risk can be limited through spam filters and digital certificates, but fraud is part off life, both online and off.

“”I don’t think just because we have the electronic world certain classes of people will wise up that they are potentially being preyed upon,”” Kovar said.

ISPs and Web hosting companies, Kovar said, needn’t worry they caught in net. He said he doesn’t believe they are any more liable than a phone company when a fraud is committed over the phone.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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