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Online shopping and auction fraud

What it is

When you discover any of a variety of problems you may have with something you’re buying or selling in an online auction or marketplace, such as eBay, Gumtree or Etsy.

Once the bidding has finished you find out that there’s no way of returning the goods or having your money refunded, or you’re not properly paid for something you’ve sold.

Protect yourself

  • Check the item description carefully and ask the seller questions if you’re unsure of something.
  • Know the terms and conditions of any auction website, including dispute resolution policy.
  • Pay on the auction site every time and don’t click on links the seller sends to you. Never pay by money transfers; use a recognised service such as PayPal, which protects your money until you've resolved any problems with the seller.

Spot the signs

  • The buyer or seller has a bad feedback history, or has only recently set up a new account to avoid a poor reputation.
  • You get a private message or email offering to buy below the current bid or reserve price or to sell a similar item after an auction has ended.
  • You find an expensive item for sale at an incredibly low starting bid. If an offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

How it happens

Online auctions and marketplaces have become a very popular way of trading online, but fraudsters are using them to take advantage of your trust to sell poor-quality or non-existent items.

You may find that something you’ve bought online arrives late or never at all. In some cases the products you’ve paid for are less valuable than shown in the advert, different from the original description, or you weren’t told crucial information about the product or terms of the sale.

If you’re selling, you may not be paid. The buyer will give an excuse as to why they can’t send payment and will ask you to deliver the items you’ve sold first and expect the money later.

In other cases you may be asked to give your identity details or personal financial information to an online seller who has used them to defraud you.

The seller may try to direct you to a website that looks like the auction site, but has in fact been created by the fraudster to capture your payment details for themselves. Check the URL in the web browser; a tactic often used by fraudsters is to change the address very slightly to make it look authentic at first glance (such as ‘www.ebayz.com’).

Alternatively, you may get ‘spoofed’ emails that are designed to look like they’ve been sent by the online auction or payment site you’re registered with. The emails will ask you to update your account details or re-enter them because your account has been suspended. Don’t follow links from these emails.

Be wary of accepting cheques. Even if it clears, you’re still liable if the cheque is forged or stolen. You should never accept a cheque for a higher amount than what’s due and refund the difference.

How to report it

If you’ve contacted the auction site but your dispute can’t be resolved, report it to us online or call 0300 123 2040.