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How to protect yourself when buying from independent sellers online

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey
Apr 28, 2017

The internet has and continues to change the way we shop.  

Bricks-and-mortar shops have been taking a beating from online retailers such as Amazon for years now.

While these platforms sell new items, much as a high-street shop would, they also provide a space for people to buy and sell among themselves.

Added to this has also been the growth of social media, which has allowed people to sell among themselves.

Through platforms like Facebook, people are connecting and selling each other goods online, using mediums such as PayPal to transfer money.

This can be a great thing.

But it also leads to potential risks.

Here’s our guide to avoid being scammed when buying from independent sellers online.


Ask for pictures

One uncomplicated way to avoid getting scammed is to ask for pictures that prove the seller has the goods in question.

So, if you are purchasing a t-shirt, ask some sort of identifiable object or note next to the t-shirt in the picture.

It’s often common for sellers to include a piece of paper with their name and other identifiable words written on (such as the name of the online community through which you and the seller are connected).

This, at the very least, verifies that the seller is genuine. That’s not to say a picture is a guarantee. The seller could have the goods and still not send them.

However, it does reduce the risk: at least the seller has the product they are trying to sell you.

Any seller that doesn’t offer pictures should be treated with suspicion.

Read more: Scammed online? Here's how to get your money back. 


Ask around

Depending on how you’ve connected with the seller, there’s a number of ways you can look for feedback from past transactions.

If you’re using a platform like eBay or Etsy, there’s already a fairly reliable feedback system.

People who have purchased from them in the past can verify that they are legitimate sellers and wont rip you off.

However, be sure to look closely at reviews.

If positive reviews are left by the same account, be cautious.

You should also look at the accounts leaving reviews and see if they look like genuine and active accounts, or are so-called “sock puppets” created to leave fake reviews.

If you’re buying goods from someone on PayPal you have connected with over a Facebook group or a forum, you can ask the community if anyone else has had dealings with them before.


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Counterfeit caution

This primarily applies to buying clothes.

Buying branded clothes online from individual sellers is always a risk. There’s a lot of counterfeit goods floating around.

Assuming you’re not after fakes (and nor should you be – it’s illegal!), there are several things you can do to try and make sure the product your'e buying in authentic.

First, be realistic. If the retail price of an item of clothing is massively higher than what is being offered by a second hand seller, have a think why.

Sure, it could be cheap because it fell off the back of a lorry (which opens up a whole can of trouble in itself – handling stolen goods is illegal), but chances are it’s a fake.

It’s also worth checking a seller's feedback from prior transactions.

Check their negative reviews – if they have past buyers complaining about receiving fakes, chances are you will receive fakes.

You can also ask for a second opinion.

If you have a verified picture of the piece of clothing you are intending to buy, submit the picture to a Facebook group or forum and ask if others believe it to be real or fake.  

It’s not foolproof, but if you have a whole slew of clothing enthusiasts online telling you that an item is fake, chances are it is.


Don't give as gift

If you’re buying goods online, outside of official channels like eBay, some sellers may request you send the money through PayPal as a gift.

PayPal requires sellers to pay a small fee when they are sent money in exchange for goods.

Therefore many sellers will request you send the money as a gift, perhaps in exchange for a small discount.

We’d recommend not doing that.

Sending your money as a gift afford you less protection. If the seller doesn’t send the goods or they are not as described, you will have little recourse.

The potential savings for you, the buyer, are not worth the risk,


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