Online shopping and mail order

Online classified scams

You may encounter scammers when buying and selling through online classified sales.  

Scammers posing as sellers

Websites like Gumtree are a great way to buy second-hand items and pay cash on pick-up.

However, in some cases, you may buy items you haven’t seen. The goods may not exist - scammers can copy details from another legitimate ad. 

There are risks when you buy items from private sellers who you don’t meet.

Scammers posing as buyers

It’s not just buyers losing money through scams. Sellers can lose money when scammers pose as potential buyers. 

They might create a story which involves overpaying and then asking the seller to pay the extra money to a fake shipment company or courier.

The whole original payment is then declined by your bank because a stolen credit card or dishonest cheque was used. 

Sometimes the scammers convince the seller to pay transport costs up front and then disappear with that money.

Report scammers

You can fight back by telling website operators about scam adverts. You should also report email addresses used in these scams to the email service providers.

Before you buy

If you are using a shopping website that isn’t a well-known retailer, make sure the business exists by checking the street address and contact details. 

Search online for reviews or blogs. Before entering personal or financial information, make sure the site is secure. Read more about paying securely online.

If you are using eBay to shop online, only use the eBay message service. This helps avoid scams such as fake second-chance offers on email after you lose out to another bidder.

Paying for your goods

If you pay by wire transfer, such as through Western Union or an electronic money system like Ukash, it is almost impossible to trace who received the money.

Even if you do a bank transfer you may struggle to track the transaction with the banks or get your money back through law enforcement agencies. 

Only a secure payment system such as PayPal can give you an opportunity to get a refund if your goods do not arrive.

Scammers also create copycat versions of secure payment websites like Google Checkout or PayPal and send you the link. Do not click on links like this.

You should type the web address, such as, directly into your internet browser.

Fake items

Sometimes fake items are advertised for sale. 

Common fake items include all of the following:

  • cars
  • boats
  • electronics such as phones and cameras
  • concert and event tickets
  • pets, usually puppies.

Puppy scams

Buyers can be drawn in emotionally with a sob story and photos sent by text or email.

They may say the animal is sick and needs treatment before it can be shipped. There may be a fee for transporting the animal in a crate.

To avoid these scams, you should adopt a pet through a local animal rescue centre or buy locally from a reputable breeder.

Find out more about scams and how to report them.

For more advice contact NT Consumer Affairs.

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Last updated: 11 June 2015

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