Looking for a puckered pair of ruby-red lips in loveseat form?
While it's an unusual item, it's exactly the type of furniture that draws customers to Relove Furniture in Chinatown. The curated vintage store offers a range of chic housewares and quirky designs that you'd be hard-pressed to find at commercial retailers.
But acquiring these eccentric items involves a bit of risk.
Owner Liliana Faisca tells V.I.A. that she's hunted for unique treasures to sell at her store for three-and-a-half years, utilizing a range of private seller platforms including Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
And while she's never had an issue buying an item online in the past, a recent experience with a private seller has made her more cautious moving forward.
In mid-February, the Vancouver business owner came across a Facebook Marketplace advertisement for a loveseat shaped like a pair of puckered lips and a life-size porcelain leopard -- two items that were high on her bucket list.
"I don't consider myself a gullible person," she explains, adding that the seller didn't give any indication that they were untrustworthy.
"In my three years of doing this, I never would have thought that this person was a scammer."
Faisca has picked up on online scams in the past, noting that fraudsters are typically "quick to respond" with short answers. "They get straight to the point," she emphasizes.
Vancouver business owner says scammer was "so conversational"
In this instance, the seller was "so conversational" and made a few jokes. They even advised her to bring someone with her when she was picking up the loveseat because it would be difficult to maneuver by herself.
"If I were to have thought it was a scam I would never think that somebody would be giving me such detail."
Faisca has made a practice of giving online sellers a cash deposit for items that she plans to buy. Since there is so much competition for certain pieces, buyers who don't offer to put one down run the risk of being looked over.
While her bank determined that the transaction was fraud-related and returned her $100 deposit, the Vancouver woman hopes sharing her story will prevent other people from getting scammed.
She added that numerous people have contacted her sharing a similar story and that she has noticed multiple accounts "popping up" on the social media platform under similar names.
But Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee says people should never provide money to online sellers before meeting them. And when they do meet them, it should be in a public place, preferably outside of a police station.
"If you are a victim of fraud, report it to the police," she underscores. "Getting a file created and putting that information in the hands of the police may assist other people because it will allow police to know where to look for fraudulent activity and what to monitor."
Police are engaged in active monitoring of places like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and Kijiji looking for fraudsters and scammers. So identifying who might be a potential fraudster for them can help other people avoid getting scammed in the future, Lee adds.
"Police stations have also made themselves open to allow individuals to meet in the lobby to exchange and do transactions from internet sites like Facebook marketplace. So always ask to meet in the lobby or outside of a police station where the person is going to be recorded and where the police are right there if something does go wrong."
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.
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
With files from Maria Diment.