What is an online purchase scam? 

Online purchase scams occur when a fraudster uses an e-commerce platform and trick victims into thinking they’re dealing with a legitimate person. This scam can happen in 2 forms: buy scams and sell scams.

What is a buy scam?

While people use classified websites to sell their items, fraudsters will use the platform to post fake ads to trick buyers into purchasing an item that doesn’t exist. The fake ads can be for any item or service, such as used cars, rental properties, or pets. 

To make the fake ad more attractive to buyers, the item is typically advertised at a very low price. When purchasing the item, the seller will make excuses as to the reason the buyer can’t view the item, such as the seller is overseas, and their agent will deliver the item following the payment. Unfortunately, the buyer is left paying for an item they’ll never receive.

How a buy scam works

  • A product, service or property is listed online at a very low price
  • The listed item is available as a limited-time offer
  • Seller requests the payment to be made before the delivery of the product or service
  • Payment is requested to be made by wire transfer, cheque, pre-loaded card or cryptocurrency
  • Seller makes excuses to not meet the buyer in person, such as claiming to be too busy or too far away to show item  

What is a sell scam? 

When listing your own items for sale on classified websites, fraudsters may try to purchase your item and scam you out of money. The fraudster may ask for your assistance to pay for fake upfront costs, such as insurance, and will promise to pay you back. 

Another common scheme is providing the seller with a fake cheque that’s for an amount higher than the sale price with the fraudster making up excuses for the overpayment, such as covering extra shipping fees or just human error. They’ll ask the seller to send the overpayment back to them, often through wire transfer, gift cards, or Interac e-Transfer®. Unfortunately, the seller sends the money back to the fraudster before the cheque clearing, so when the cheque bounces, the seller loses the money they sent. 

How a sell scam works

  • Buyer makes excuses for not meeting the seller in person, such as claiming to be too busy or too far away
  • Buyer sends a cheque for more than the agreed upon price and requests to be refunded for the overpayment through wire transfer, e-transfer, cheque, pre-loaded card or cryptocurrency
  • Buyer is eager to make the purchase without concern for the details of the product or service

Stay safe with our tips

  • Compare the price to that of other similar listings. If the low price seems too good to be true then it may be a scam.
  • When looking for rental properties, look up the address of the property to check if the listing has been copied from another listing.
  • Research the seller online to find out if others have purchased from this person. If there are user profiles on the classified website, review their profile to check if the person has a history.
  • When selling your items, be sure that the payment is legitimate before giving away your item. If the buyer provides you with a cheque, make sure the cheque clears beforehand, especially if you’ve been overpaid.
  • Be cautious of paying by wire transfer, cryptocurrency and pre-loaded cards. These untraditional forms of payment are often difficult to trace back to the recipient, making it a preferred form of payment for fraudsters.

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Explore more about buy and sell scams

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