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Watch for these red flags when buying from online buy-sell platforms

Platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist have become a hotbed for scams, some resulting in violent robberies
Important red flags to look for when buying online or arranging an in-person transaction using platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist

In this digital age, more and more consumers are heading to the internet to buy and sell items. 

Private seller platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist have become increasingly popular, but digital marketplaces have also become a hotbed for scams and fraud, including rental scams.

In Vancouver, a recent string of in-person meet-ups between private sellers resulted in violent robberies, prompting the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to warn locals to remain cautious when arranging buy/sell meetings on the internet. 

How to stay safe when meeting someone from an online marketplace

Following news of the robberies, VPD installed a Safe Exchange Location at the front of their headquarters located at 2120 Cambie St. Here, people can meet for in-person transactions under the surveillance of Vancouver police. 

"If buyers/sellers can’t meet here, we suggest bringing a friend and meeting in a public place where they will be in view of others (shopping mall, coffee shop, etc.)," writes VPD Cst. Jason Doucette in an email to Vancouver Is Awesome. "We do not suggest prepaying for items, and remind people to remember if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Doucette also notes that the most important piece of advice for those planning to meet in person is to follow their gut. He encourages folks who feel that their safety is at risk to get to a safe place while calling 911.

If a person is scammed or becomes a victim of a crime, they should make a report with their local police. 

Red flags when buying online from a private seller

Even before arranging an in-person transaction, there are several ways to tell if an online listing is a scam.

Several red flags, as listed by Consumer Protection BC, are:

  • Many spelling and grammatical errors
  • Generic product photos rather than real photos
  • Being asked to wire the payment (a common indication of a scam)
  • Pressure to make a quick decision
  • A last minute change of plans
  • An offer that seems too good to be true

The agency also recommends several tips for staying safe when moving forward with a transaction:

  • Don't give out personal or financial information
  • Don't pay before you see the product (including e-transfer)
  • Ask questions about the product
  • Research the seller and find out about their track record via third-party sales websites (like Craigslist)
  • Inspect and test the item before you buy it
  • Meet in a public location and bring a friend
  • Trust your gut