Increasingly, the Internet is becoming full of sites where you can advertise items for sale or swap. These range form online-auctions sites like eBay through to “online-classifieds” sites like Craiglist, Gumtree or Le Bon Coin, to online car-sales or house-sales directories like Carsales.com .
A problem that can easily happen with these sites is where someone can use various forms of fraud or trickery to scam you out of your money or have you misrepresent the goods being sold. This doesn’t matter whether you are the buyer or the seller of the goods concerned. A friend whom I go to church with passed on an email about a bad experience that someone he knew had when he sold a vehicle on Carsales.com .
Deal with the site directly
As you manage your interactions with these online marketplaces, use the same cautions as what would be expected for online banking and broking. Here, you need to be suspicious of phishing approaches and interact with the site using its known Web address. This is a good time to add the online marketplace to your browser’s Favourites or Bookmarks; or create an operating-system link (available on the Desktop to the marketplace.
It is also a good habit to monitor the ad on the Website to make sure it hasn’t been modified by anyone but you if you are selling the goods in question. This is important in relationship to the price of the item being sold.
As well, deal with your email service in a cautious manner. Here, if you use a Webmail service, log in to the Webmail service by starting a Web browser and logging in using its Web address or coming in to the service using an entry point that you preset for it.
Settle the transaction in a traceable manner
As you settle the transaction, make sure you use a payment system like PayPal where the payments can be traced and you can reverse the transaction if there are questions about the goods. This is more important if the goods aren’t being handed over in person.
As well, deal with the payment system “at the horse’s mouth” when following up the transaction by using the system’s Web site. This is important when you are dealing with high-value goods.
Beware of transaction values that are way over or under the odds
Transactions that are way “off the beam” should ring alarm bells. This is important whether you are a buyer or seller. because a person who is offering well over the odds for something you sell may be engaging in a fraudulent transaction. Similarly, goods advertised well below their expected value may have many questions about their provenance or condition.
Research the goods you buy
When you are buying goods through an online marketplace, make sure you know about the goods you intend to buy so you can make an informed decision. This may involve researching the Web generally about the item, dealing with online forums specific to the kind of item being sold or simply talking with one or more people who are knowledgeable about the goods.
In the case of vehicles, watercraft and aircraft, find out their fair market value through resources like the Red Book (Australia, New Zealand or Asia Pacific), Kelly Blue Book or NADAGuides in the US, or Parkers Guides in the UK. If you are dealing with a “classic”, it may be worth contacting a club associated with that marque or model, or browsing through a magazine dedicated to those cars like Hemmings to assess the real value of them.
As well, use resources like CarFacts (Australia) or Autocheck to verify if the car has been stolen or written off, or if there are debts outstanding on it. In some cases such as a car that was just privately imported, you may have to use similar resources based in a country other than your own as well as your own country.
Making contact with the other party
Try to make contact with the other party at least through the online marketplace’s enquiry system so you can exchange more details about the goods that are the subject of the transaction. It is also a better idea to make a telephone call with each other so you can be sure you are dealing with a real person. Sometimes making a Skype or Viber videocall can work wonders so you can see whom you are dealing with and you can have them show you the item in question.
For high-value items like vehicles or boats, make sure you can see the item in person. This is to verify the goods are genuine and you can assess its condition properly. This also includes being able to take the vehicle for a test-drive to put it through its paces. In the case of vehicles especially when one is buying their first car, I have always advised bringing one or more friends along when seeing the seller and the vehicle in order to obtain a better opinion about the vehicle.