buying online

How to buy and sell online without getting scammed

Spring and summer are times when many of us want to do things to refresh our homes. Whether it’s new living room furniture, fresh bedding or curtains, or a bit of a garden update, it all comes with a price tag.

So it’s no surprise that an increasing number of us are relying on online selling sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree to buy new goods for our home. There are many bargains to be had which can drastically reduce the cost of refreshing your home. And of course, it helps even more if you also use these sites to sell your old stuff and raise a bit of extra money in the process.

However, sadly there are an increasing number of scams that can play havoc with your plans. So it’s important to be aware of known scams and keep them in mind during the buying and selling process. In this article we take a look at five scams to look out for when you are buying and selling online.


Five scams to avoid when buying online

  • Phishing your personal data

If you are buying anything online, you need to be very wary about giving more of your personal details than necessary. A common online scam is “phishing”. This is typically where you will be sent an email – seemingly from a reputable source such as an online platform – asking you to click on a link to verify your identity. The link will then go to a fake site, and any personal or financial details you enter could fall straight into the hands of scammers.

So be wary of any unexpected links, or any requests to share personal data online with a third party that you can’t be 100% sure is genuine.


  • Fake, stolen or non-existent goods

There’s an old saying that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is. So when looking for bargains, keep your wits about you. If an item is a ridiculously low price it may be either fake or stolen.

Another variant on this is that the goods may not exist at all. So you may pay for something on an online selling platform and it simply never arrives. In some cases you may be able to get your money back : for example eBay has a money-back guarantee. But there is still a chance you could lose money, depending how you pay, so it is worth double-checking the authenticity of the buyer and the goods as much as possible before parting with any money.


  • Unsafe payment methods

Continuing the above theme, always try to pay with a reputable third party digital payment option such as Paypal, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay or Worldpay. Not only does this enable you to pay without sharing any of your personal or financial details with the seller, but it also gives you additional security. You can specify to the provider exactly what the payment is for, and if you don’t receive the goods as described you should be able to get a refund from them.

If you are buying anything online by other means, for example a card, check that the website is secure by looking to see if it has the prefix “https” and/or a padlock sign in front of the website address. This means that information exchanged between your device and the website is encrypted so that even if it were intercepted by a hacker during the transfer process they would not be able to understand it. 


  • Faulty goods

One of the downsides of buying online is that you don’t see the goods until you receive them. So if you are buying a major item through a platform such as Facebook Marketplace, it’s a good idea to meet the seller in person to make sure the item is fully functional, particularly if you are paying by cash. Otherwise you risk discovering that something is faulty and the seller – and your money – could completely disappear.


  • Unverified seller

Always be wary if an online seller is new to the platform. Of course everyone needs to start somewhere, and there will be a first time for every seller. But if they are new, try to do some background checking to get some reassurance that they are genuine.

For example, if the seller is on a Facebook selling group and has only just joined, see if you can check out their main profile and friends to see if it looks genuine or not. Try clicking on the friends : on a fake profile you will see discrepancies such as unreal-looking photos, strange names or inconsistent genders. Also check where the profile says they are based, to see if that matches the information about the location of the item.

Five scams to avoid when selling online

  • Fake payment confirmations

If you are selling goods online, don’t part with them until you have definite payment. A scammer may be able to show you a screenshot of a fake payment transaction that can look convincing, but until the money is actually in your account, don’t be persuaded to give the buyer the goods.

If you know a buyer is going to pay in cash, it is worth familiarising yourself with how to spot counterfeit money – particularly if a large sum is involved. You can find guidance on how to do this on the Bank of England website.


  • Item not received scam

This scam is when a buyer, for example on eBay, raises a dispute either that their item never arrived, or only the packaging arrived, with no item in it. This is tricky because there is no cast iron way of determining the truth : it’s your word against theirs. 

The eBay complaints procedure tends to side with the buyer, so would probably issue them a refund. And if the buyer has paid through PayPal, their Seller Protection policy puts the onus on you – the seller – to prove the item was delivered. 

The best ways to avoid this scam are firstly not to agree to sell to any buyer with questionable reviews from previous sellers, and secondly to pay for your deliveries to be weighed on despatch and signed for on delivery.


  • Broken item scam

A similar scam to the previous one is when a buyer claims they received a broken item. There is no real way of knowing if this is genuine. Even if you – or the selling platform – ask for photos to prove it, it’s always possible that the buyer already had a similar item that was broken and is seeking to replace it for free.

The only ways round this one are firstly to ensure that you pack your item really carefully and select the safest delivery option, and secondly that you carefully record any unique details and imperfections on your item that could make it possible to identify it in case of dispute.


  • Refund request

Another less frequent scam to be aware of is if you sell something online and your buyer requests a refund from their credit card or PayPal, sometimes as soon as you ship the item. Even though they would need to supply a reason for their request, this can be as flimsy as them just saying they suspected something was wrong. In which case they get your item and their money back, and you could be charged for the transaction.


  • Delivery insurance

One other scam to watch out for is being asked to pay any kind of charge related to delivery that your buyer has arranged. For example, if the buyer says they are too busy to collect the item in person so will send a courier to your home to pick it up, and bring cash on delivery. If you agree to this, they will then ask you to pay insurance to cover the cash, which will be refunded once the item has been received.

They will send a link for the supposed insurance payment but this link will take you to a fake website designed to gather personal and banking details. 

So be suspicious of any buyer wanting to use a courier and asking for payment. Most legitimate delivery companies do not offer a service involving marketplace collections, insurance fees or cash payments.


We hope that the information in this article has helped you to be aware of potential scams when you are buying or selling online and how to avoid them. 

And if you are refreshing your home this year and need some extra funds to help you do so, remember that Munzee offers loans over 24 months that may be able to help.

For more lifestyle and financial tips check back here again soon with us at Munzee Loans.