It’s so easy to buy and sell items online, either locally or from across the world. E-commerce has become a valuable and highly popular way for users to get what they want, and sell what they don’t.

But, as with everything, there are risks involved, and if you aren’t aware of them, you could easily fall victim to a fraudulent situation. Just as e-commerce evolves, so do the scams and their orchestrators.

Being aware that they exist isn’t enough, you have to actively be on the look for anything suspicious or questionable. How do you know what exactly you should watch out for? Find the answers to practicing safe online transactions in this post.

For Sellers

When selling items online, there are a number of things to not only look out for, but to avoid as well. You can make sure to sell smart if you:

Never sell items to people who haven’t seen them. This counts for both buyers who claim to be local, and those who don’t. It’s rare for anyone to buy anything without taking a look at it in person first.

Often, when people ask to buy something without seeing it, they’ll ask for your banking information so that they can “transfer” their payment to you. The thing is, you don’t need someone’s bank account number or PIN to send them an e-transfer. Never provide that information to anyone who is buying an item from you. Instead, ignore emails from anyone who asks for financial information and find a buyer who wants to check out whatever you are selling before buying.

Don’t meet at your house. You should only have potential buyers come to your house if the item is either too heavy to move, or it needs to be tested, such as a TV or other electronics.

Another tip is to never give out your address until you have confirmed a day and time for someone to view the item. Don’t list your address in the ad, and don’t give it to just anyone who asks. What you sell can give an indication as to what else you have in your home. Keep it to yourself until you have a definite appointment with an individual.

Document your sales. Small things, like a pair of jeans or a garden hose may not need to be documented, but all electronics, vehicles, jewelry, or other costly items should all have a Bill of Sale.

One of the most important reasons to use a Bill of Sale is that you can indicate that the item is being purchased “as-is” with no warranties or guarantees. This means that the buyer knows the item may be damaged, or in used condition, and they cannot request any repayment from you down the road.

Be honest. If you are selling an item that is damaged, or needs a part, be clear in your advertisement. If you aren’t, the buyer will either find out when they come to look at it, or find out later and wish to return it and get their money back.

Don’t waste your time, and the buyer’s, by hiding any defects or known issues.

Expect to negotiate. On classified websites, you should be prepared for buyers approaching you to take less for your item. It’s basically a given on any local buy and sell website. It isn’t often that you get the asking price for an item, unless it’s a really great deal.

That means that you shouldn’t list your lowest acceptable price as your asking price. Display the most you hope to get for whatever you are selling, and leave room to negotiate. This keeps you from either getting less than you hoped, or having that extra bedframe or that old lawn furniture taking up valuable real estate on your property.

Don’t just take any payments. When selling through a classified site, you should never accept checks, partial payments, or promises to pay later. If a buyer doesn’t have cash to buy your item, they shouldn’t leave with it.

Of course, this changes when you are selling on an e-commerce site, such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy. PayPal is one of the safest ways to secure payment online, and most large buy and sell sites encourage or require users to have an account.

Be seasonally strategic. People don’t usually buy holiday decorations in the summer, or patio sets in the winter. If you really want something to sell, and you want to get a good price for it, post it when the demand is likely to be at its peak.

For Buyers

Buying may seem to have less fraud surrounding it, but don’t be too sure. Many buyers have learned to be cautious the hard way. Practicing the following tips could help to keep you and your wallet happy.

Look at items before buying. Never promise to purchase or put a deposit down on something you haven’t seen, or that can’t be backed up. Even if you live out of town, have someone that you know take a look before you commit, especially for big purchases.

Use trusted sites. When shopping online, only buy from trusted e-commerce sites. If it looks like it might be a scam, or a fake site, best to avoid it altogether.

If you are purchasing something from a site like eBay or Amazon, pay attention to seller ratings. Look at their reviews, their history, and if other users left any comments behind. The point of using a rating system is to help keeps buyers safe. Avoid sellers who don’t have the best reputations no matter how badly you want what they have to sell.

Check the functionality. Make sure to check if an item or product works before you buy it. Don’t feel shy about asking to see a TV or computer plugged in and running before handing over cash. Remember, you are the one who will be left feeling cheated if you don’t.

Also, ask the seller about any defects or issues before committing. This goes for large items, as well as small ones.

Always pay the agreed upon price. Generally, you agree on a price before seeing an item, and then you go to take a look. Bring the full amount with you, and be ready to buy if the item is what you expected.

Don’t show up with $10 or $20 less than you said you would. It’s dishonest, and the seller likely won’t take kindly to it. You could even end up losing the purchase altogether.

Take precautions. When ordering items that will be shipped to you, spend a little extra for a tracking number, use a secure and trusted payment system like PayPal, and don’t buy from sites that you don’t think are real.

Tracking numbers can prove whether or not an item was delivered to you. These are useful when ordering products from overseas, as you and the seller can both see where it is at all times. If it gets lost, the tracking information will show that you never got it, which helps to protect you from having to pay for something that never arrived.

PayPal will help you to dispute problem purchases and transactions if you cannot resolve them with the seller. While you should always try to fix an issue with a seller first, using secure forms of payment can protect you if they are unwilling to help.

Knockoff sites pop up all of the time, and even copy big brands. Look at the URL of the site that you are purchasing from, and search around for reviews, comments, etc. before sending them any money.

Never trust unsolicited emails from unrecognized websites. Scammers are fond of replicating bank and e-commerce emails, but if you don’t have an account with them, you have never purchased through them before, or the email just looks suspicious, either call the company it says it came from or delete it.

You should never have to provide your personal banking details to a seller, unless it’s a known website with a secure payment process. Legitimate businesses will not ask for your financial account information through email.

Smarts Over Cents

All in all, you should be careful to avoid any situation or transaction that seems suspicious to you. It’s more important to be safe and to avoid fraud or identity theft than it is to make a few bucks. If an offer feels off, it likely is. And if it wasn’t, at least you didn’t take a risk to find out.

Have you ever had an online purchase go awry? What tips do you have to offer?

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.

One Comment

  1. […] The internet is a giant marketplace that makes buying and selling items easier than ever. Between Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, Etsy and even Facebook, there are a wealth of options for selling new and used items—just be sure to steer clear of online fraud. […]

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