Always do the exchange in person

As a general rule, try doing a local meet-up since you’ll know you’re dealing with a real person. If you’re worried about your safety, ask to meet at a local police station, as many of them have an exchange zone that’s monitored. You could also ask to meet up inside a public place, such as a coffee shop.

Avoid any late-night meets or areas that might leave you vulnerable, like a parking lot. As a seller, you might not get the best offer when dealing with someone local — as opposed to someone willing to pay more if you ship it to them — but at least you’ll know that you’re selling to an actual person.

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Cash is king

Cash deals are always the best since you’re physically receiving the funds. However, if the amount is high, you could ask the buyer/seller to go with you to a bank to get the bank draft. By doing this, you’re ensuring that the funds you’re getting are legitimate.

If you’re being asked to transfer cash through a money exchange service, money order or wire transfer (such as Western Union) it’s probably a scam. Don’t even think about accepting a cheque. Interac e-Transfers can be fine, but be aware that if you send someone money for faulty goods — or goods that you don’t receive at all — you likely won’t be able to reverse the transaction. If you call your financial institution fast enough, they may be able to cancel the transfer before it is deposited. Otherwise, you could contact your bank to explain the situation and see if they can launch an investigation and possibly get your money back. However, this can take weeks and there is no guarantee that your bank will initiate an investigation.

Ask a lot of questions

When buying anything online, you should ask additional questions. You need to look for additional information to verify that the seller is legit. For example, you could ask for more pictures, or ask about how the item was used. You could even ask them where the item was originally purchased. Essentially, what you’re looking for is any holes in their story. If something sounds off, it’s probably not a transaction worth making.

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See if you can verify their identity

If you’re dealing with a buyer or seller that you can’t meet in person, you should try to verify their identity. Ask them to send a picture of them holding their ID (with their personal information covered). You could also ask them to provide links to their social media accounts. You want to establish that you’re talking to someone legit. Scammers will hesitate to give away any information. That said, anyone should be suspicious when someone asks about personal information. Make it clear that you’re just trying to verify their identity and are not looking for any sensitive information.

Beware of prices

When shopping for things online, if a deal sounds too good to be true, be very cautious. If you’re looking for a Playstation 5 — which usually sells out a few days after being restocked — but an online seller is offering it for just $50 over retail, it’s probably a scam. Alternatively, if there’s an item you’re interested in that seems to be listed for well below what it’s worth, you should question the legitimacy.

Don’t accept any excuses

If you come across a buyer or seller that seems to have excuses, it’s probably not worth your trouble. Let’s say you’re buying electronics. There’s no reason why you can’t inspect the item before you complete the transaction. If they make an excuse like they forgot to charge it, demand that it be plugged in at a coffee shop so you can inspect it. If someone says they need the items shipped to them because they’re in another country, but they’re willing to pay you extra for your trouble, warning bells should go off in your head.

Only buy from reputable sites

It’s not just used marketplaces you need to be aware of. When making any online purchase, you should only shop from reputable sites such as Amazon. Even then, you’ll want to ensure you’re on the right site, as fraudsters may create a fake website that looks similar to the real thing. Tech-savvy scammers can create sites that copy logos of reputable sites. Look out for spelling mistakes or even a URL that doesn’t seem right.

Be sure to read reviews of the vendor. If there are none, be suspicious. When checking out, make sure you haven’t been redirected to a third-party site. Also ensure that the site doesn’t ask for payment with a method such as a wire transfer or gift card. Lastly, if a price seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

Always use tracking when selling

One common scam is buyers claiming that the goods were never delivered. They’ll then try to get their money back through the marketplace, which can quickly side with buyers. If you’re a seller, choose a shipping method that has a tracking number and requires a signature on delivery. Providing this service also protects the buyer in case the item is lost or isn’t delivered.

Listen to your gut

Even if you do your due diligence and try to protect yourself as best you can, sometimes a deal just doesn’t feel right. It might be best to trust your gut and just walk away from the transaction.


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Barry Choi Moneywise Contributor

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who makes frequent media appearances. When he's not educating people on how to be smarter with money, he's earning and burning miles and points for luxury travel.

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