“Do it in person and do it in public.”
If you follow this mantra, you should be safe. But sometimes a scammer will have a convincing scam up their sleeve, which is why you should also follow these additional precautions. Be extra cautious of people who make up reasons for why they suddenly can’t meet in person and pressure you to decide fast, especially if delivery to a foreign country is involved.
Don’t send money to someone you haven’t met in person
Don’t fall for fake protection programs.
Ask questions. When you first contact a seller by phone or email, express your interest in the item and ask any questions you may have. Ask about the condition and/or history of the item. Ask to see digital photos as well.
Limit personal information. Limit the amount of information you share about yourself (for example, don’t give out your home phone or address and remove personal information. However, after the seller has answered some questions and seems credible, you may need to disclose more information about yourself such as your name and mobile phone number (but keep it limited to that).
Establish the credibility of the seller. In addition to communicating over email, we recommend talking to the seller by phone before meeting them.
If the seller seems evasive or suspicious or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the initial contact process, do not continue to pursue the transaction.
Meet in a public place. Meet in a public place if possible – during the daytime when other people will be around.
Bring a friend. If the item is large, like a piece of furniture, and you must go to the seller’s home, always let someone know where you are going. You may also want to share whatever contact info you have for the seller (their email address, phone number).
If the seller seems evasive or suspicious or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the meeting, simply excuse yourself.
Do your research. It always helps to do advance research on the market value of item so you will know if you are getting a good deal. You may want to bring copies of similar listings with you that support your valuation. Don’t be afraid to haggle or negotiate on price, but don’t insult the seller with an unreasonably low offer.
See it before you buy it. Always see the item in person before you buy it. If it is merchandise, inspect its condition carefully. If it is a car, check the vehicle history and ask for receipts for any service records. You can also request a pre-purchase inspection at a local mechanic, a service which can identify potential safety and mechanical issues. Take the car on a test drive and for extra precaution, ensure that the car is registered in the seller’s name. If the item in question is a pet, check its veterinary records and pedigree papers.
If the item is not as described or pictured, don’t be afraid to walk away from the deal or change your offer.
Pay cash. In online classifieds, it’s best to pay cash and to keep the payment simple. Do not use personal checks, money wires, Western Union or Moneygrams. Do not give out any personally identifiable information such as bank numbers or credit card numbers.
For big purchases, use bank transfer. For an item priced over £1,000, you may be more comfortable using a bank transfer check from a well-known bank so you don’t have to carry around the cash. You can bring a cashier’s check in person to your first meeting, but it may be better to wait until you are sure you want to buy the item since you will need to make it out to the seller and you will need a final amount. You should also ask for a signed receipt.
Protect your personally identifiable information. Don’t give out your social security number, bank numbers, credit card numbers, etc. If someone like a landlord asks for your social security number, give them a copy of your credit report instead, with your social security number blacked out.
If the seller seems evasive or suspicious or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the transaction, walk away from the deal. Always trust your instincts.
Here are some frequently asked questions:
What do I do if the other person insists that I contact them directly at their personal email address?
They might be a scammer. Usually, there should be no reason for you to have to contact them directly.
What do I do if I really need to give the other person my personal email address?
There are some rare cases where you might legitimately need to give the other person your email address. We recommend that you give them your address through the phone or after you met them in person.
How do I report a suspicious message?
If you think the other person is doing something suspicious, you should submit a ticket support with their email address.
Be descriptive, use photos. Describe your item as accurately as possible so potential buyers don’t become irritated if the item is not as expected. Include photos to give an idea of the appearance and condition of the item.
Answer questions. Respond to any interested buyer over email and/or by phone to answer his or her questions and to determine whether he or she is someone with whom you want to do business. Try to get a sense of his or her overall credibility and trustworthiness to see if you want to move forward.
Limit personal information. Don’t disclose any personally identifiable information, like where you work, until you feel comfortable with the other person. Avoid inviting someone to your home.
If a buyer seems to act suspicious or raises any red flags during preliminary contact, trust your instincts and walk away from the deal.
Avoid doing business with people who are not local. Classifieds transactions should always be done locally. Don’t accept offers from potential buyers you can’t meet in person, especially those over your asking price. A common scam is an offer over your asking price plus an extra amount for shipping. The “buyer” will send a counterfeit cashier’s check and ask you to refund the difference back to them. By the time you discover the cashier’s check is counterfeit, it’s too late.
Meet in a public place; avoid being alone. Meet in a public place if possible, or if the item is large, like a piano or a washer and dryer, arrange to have a friend over when the buyer arrives. If you are selling an item, you may want to schedule your showings all at one time, especially if you are at home alone (there is safety in crowds). Let a neighbour know that potential buyers are coming to your house.
Be prepared to negotiate. A buyer may want to haggle with you about the price of an item. Be prepared to negotiate the price and terms of the transaction but be clear where you stand.
Remove listing when sold. For common courtesy and to avoid angering potential buyers, once your item is sold, be sure to remove your classified ad and contact any interested buyers so they don’t waste their time coming to see it.
If a buyer seems evasive or suspicious or makes you uncomfortable at any point during the meeting, walk away (or ask them to leave if they are at your house).
Insist on cash. In online classifieds, cash is the safest and the simplest for both parties. Do not accept personal checks, money wires, Western Union or Moneygrams. Do not give out any personally identifiable information such as bank numbers or credit card numbers. Also, ask for payment in full.
For big purchases, you can accept cashier’s checks. A potential buyer may be uncomfortable carrying around large amounts for items priced over £1,000, so an alternative is to go to a bank together and arrange for a cashier’s check to be written out to you. Do not accept a cashier’s check from someone’s pocket (they are easy to forge). Arrange to go to the bank together during business hours to verify the check’s authenticity.
Protect your personally identifiable information. Don’t give out your social security number, bank numbers, credit card numbers, etc.
Offer a receipt. Detail the amount of the transaction and the condition of the item should any further disputes arise. Make sure that both parties sign and keep a receipt, especially in the case of a car sale. You may need the receipt later as proof of relinquishing ownership and responsibility of the vehicle if it is not re-registered and gets a ticket or is in an accident.
When buying and selling through on the marketplace, you may encounter a variety of payment types. It is always good to be flexible both about price and payment method, but it is even better to be knowledgeable about the various methods. If you do not feel comfortable with a payment method, tell the buyer or seller. If a buyer or seller refuses to choose an alternative method, never be afraid to walk away from the deal.