Classifieds websites are more and more popular these days. Most of them are totally free and have a huge traffic of people, often in the location we are interested into, who visit them every day looking for a good bargain. Craigslist, Gumtree, Vivastreet, Locanto and eBay Classifieds just to name a few of them in the UK.
On a classifieds site you can find pretty much everything advertised and the advertisers are often regular people. Or at least they can pretend to be! The biggest challenge of a buyer on such a website is to understand who the seller is and what their intentions are. That is probably even more important than the quality of the product/service!
We had a chat with the guys at TheGoodDeal.co.uk – Free ads in UK , a British classified ads project, and they gave us some interesting tips on personal online safety when buying something second-hand or contacting someone for a job or service.
The golden rule is common sense. Let’s face it, most people lack of it nowadays! The first and most obvious thing to do is checking the ad text: pictures can be misleading at a first glance, better check what it is stated in the advert. Does it sound good or trustworthy?
If the honest answer is Yes, well, try to consider if what is offered is too good or too cheap to be true: if it looks so, well probably it is! That does not mean that you cannot make a good deal on a classifieds site, but you have to be aware.
Try to find out more about the sale and the seller: how he or she used the object, why they decided to give it away, the real condition of it and so on. You can take advantage of technology. Some users looking for a flat, asked the landlord to make a video-call via Skype to show them the rooms and the garden: it is free, easy and gives a good hint of what you will actually find once (and if) you visit the place. Remember, some people, especially real estate agents, are excellent photographers!
So, in a nutshell: if you read, see or somehow perceive something dodgy, stay away from that ad and advertiser. In case of doubts, it can be useful to google the seller’s name or the product (add some details to refine your search) and see if someone else has had problems in the past. Scammers tend to be repetitive and apply always a similar cheating style.
The last, in order of time, step is crucial: the transfer of money. Most classifieds sites do not allow payments between users on their platforms: their users, both sellers and buyers, are based in a specific location and can meet in a public place to complete the exchange or sale. If you are requested a bank transfer before seeing the object, this can be a fist signal of a possible scam: classified sites are not e-commerce platforms, so you have no warranties against frauds!
The bank transfer itself can be used as evidence, but it could be really difficult to see your money back. Even worse are “alternative” methods, sometimes cheaper but also more difficult to track. The typical example is the top up on a mobile phone number or on a prepaid card. Of course, no paying method is a scam itself, but the ones listed above can help a scammer get away with it.
If possible, meet the seller in a public place, see the object, and pay cash only when you are happy about the product and once you have checked it is as advertised. Remember, saying No is always an option!