The great thing about online marketplaces is that anyone can buy or sell second-hand goods online. That makes it a prime location for scammers to make easy money.

It's simple – scammers post listings of products and services on online marketplaces to lure victims in. However, these products might not even exist! They're simply using images of products from elsewhere on the internet. Or the products could be counterfeit, broken, or of very low quality (think counterfeit luxury goods).

The really tricky thing about online marketplaces is that a lot of sellers demand a payment by bank transfer. But then, once paid, the seller and their listing may disappear without a trace, leaving the victim empty-handed.

It's not just listings on second-hand marketplaces to watch out for. Sellers may post adverts on social media or even design entire websites to lure people in.

Warning signs to watch out for

  • The product or service you are offered is much cheaper compared to the same product elsewhere.
  • Instead of being asked to pay on the platform’s recommended payment options, you are asked to pay via bank transfer.
  • The seller’s deals and offers have a sense of urgency and pressure to them.
  • The seller's profile was only launched a few days or weeks ago.

Also, don't make the mistake of thinking that the seller can't be a scammer, just because they're nice. It doesn't cost much for a scammer to engage in pleasantries and idle chat to build rapport and trust. They may even apologise and act surprised when the item doesn't turn up, even though they know full well that you've been scammed.

Tips to avoid these scams and protect your money

  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Stick to secure payment channels within the platform or website where you can, avoiding off-platform transactions such as bank transfers. If the goods are fake or do not exist, it is very unlikely the bank can recover your money.
  • Meet the seller in person and inspect the item in person if you can.
  • If you have to pay for something by transfer or cash (for example second-hand furniture listed on a social media site), do not send money for goods without inspecting it and making sure you are satisfied.
  • Follow the platform’s fraud guidance and advice.
  • Check the seller’s rating or reviews.

Scammers are known for trying to sell...

  • Cars, motorbikes and vans: criminals target potential buyers by listing fake or stolen vehicles for sale at discounted prices, luring victims into purchasing cars they do not receive. Read tips for safely buying a used car from Citizens Advice.
  • Luxury goods: a scam that is becoming more popular sees criminals listing designer items online at enticing prices, exploiting people’s desires for luxury goods.
  • Event tickets: criminals set up fake websites or social media profiles to sell tickets for sporting, music, or theatre events. It’s important to book tickets through the official site even if it is pricier as anything else could be a scam. See more advice on ticket scams from Action Fraud.

If you're in the market for a high ticket item like a car, furniture or gadgets  you might want to consider going through a reputable retailer rather than an online marketplace. It might be more expensive, but you can rest assured that you can contact the buyer and have protections in place.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

  1. Stop further payments and contact your bank or card provider as soon as possible, as they may be able to help.
  2. Report the scam to the police via Action Fraud. It’s helpful to keep records of all communication and transactions.
  3. Change passwords if necessary.

Selling things online? You should still watch out for scams

While purchase scams often emphasise the impact on buyers, it’s important to note that a seller can also be victims of these scams. This can include:

  • Sellers paying for couriers to send goods never paid for.
  • False claims that items have not been delivered.
  • Financial damage and ruined reputations.
  • Being impersonated by criminals. Sellers must be wary of providing too much of their own information, as it might allow criminals to impersonate them.

It is important for sellers to stay vigilant and keep preventative measures in place to protect themselves from being victims of purchase fraud.