Common marketplace scams to avoid when shopping online

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Opinion

As August quickly comes to an end, students are preparing for the return of class with back-to-school shopping. Post-secondary students may be seeking notebooks, textbooks, electronics, housing and used cars. Some students may need to turn to websites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Kijiji or Craiglist to find whatever they need for a lower price. Even though all of these websites mention that they are safe for users to buy and sell from, they also mention they’re targets for scamming. Here is a compilation of information to prevent scamming, some tips to look for when you are searching for a used car and a few tips from selling sites to avoid scamming on their platforms.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

 Many websites share the phrase “too good to be true.” These websites are referring to high-priced items like laptops going for prices so low it creates suspicion over the item’s condition. Facebook Marketplace advises buyers to compare the seller’s asking price on other sites, especially the price asked by the original manufacturer. 

Many websites also encourage buyers to use cash to avoid sharing information with strangers online. Reddit user Remarkable_Animal_18 said in the NAIT subreddit to “never give information away, [scammers] do not need to know your online banking password. They also do not need your driver’s license number or SIN number.” 

Facebook Marketplace’s Help Centre also explained that if the seller’s asking price is too low then it is most likely too good to be true or the product is broken. “People have to realize, a stranger on the internet is not some super charitable Romeo who will go through a whole bunch of work to make a trade that benefits you more than them,” said Reddit user Remarkable_Animal_18. 

In the market for a used car

Many websites with tips to avoid getting scammed alert everyone to always meet in person before a sale and to always take someone with you. The Experian, a consumer credit reporting site, states some people may use a scam tactic called “curbstoning” to sell defective cars by pretending to be a private seller. Dealers “typically meet you at the curb in front of a private residence or an empty parking lot, giving the scam its name.” To avoid this tactic, the Experian advises you “verify the title to make sure that it’s in the seller’s name. If it’s not, it may be because they’re trying to avoid a paper trail that leads back to them.” Be wary of multiple listings from one seller; the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council says it’s often a red flag for unsavory sellers. 

They also have a checklist with things to watch out for, including previous damage to the car from floor or fire, major repairs or if the car was declared unsafe to drive in Alberta. 

Buying from marketplace sites 

When using sites like Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji, look for ways to verify a seller’s reputation. On Facebook, sellers can be rated positively (4-5 stars) or negatively (1-3 stars). They’re also given seller badges that indicate things like quick responses to messages or if at least four other people have rated the seller positively in the past 30 days.  

Craigslist advises that the number one rule to avoid scams is to deal locally, “face-to-face.” Avoid using alternate payment websites or escrow sites; meet someone in person in a public location and accept verified methods of payment like cash or e-transfer. Shady buyers might suggest using a payment site, which Craigstlist cautions against: “the fact that the seller seems to be concerned for the protection of the buyer will often catch the buyer off guard and make them feel more confident about the seller.” Most times the suggested payment sites are fake, and the buyer will lose their money and never receive any items. 

Watch out for phishing attempts

When shopping online, stay alert for attempts to steal your information with fake emails or fake web pages. Most companies will not request personal or confidential information through email, even if it seems urgent or convincing. If a website is asking for personal information, double check the address to make sure it’s not a fake or a copy. 

Scammers will often convince people to move to other platforms, like email, to get around the website’s security systems. On the Kijiji website, it says that “sometimes these requests can be legitimate, but if they refuse to speak anywhere other than through private email, it might be best to move on.” 

Reddit user Remarkable_Animal_18 advised that “scammers like to sell you dreams and convince you that life can be rainbows. Snap out of it and remember life is tough, nothing is free … don’t let some random person’s promises of grandeur let you forget that.”

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