Seven ways to spot an online shopping scam

From the photo to the seller - clues that show you’re being targeted by online shopping scammers

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online shopping scams

A million people in the UK fell victim to online shopping scams last year, some of them several times, and this kind of crime is showing no signs of slowing. According to Gumtree, 93% of the population cannot tell an online scam from a bargain, so it's worth getting to grips with the telltale signs you are about to fall prey to a scammer.

See also: New Aldi voucher scam warning

See also: How to protect yourself from online dating scams


1. Too cheap
Most scammers sell through an online marketplace or auction site - like eBay or Gumtree - so you'll need to scour the listing for telltale signs. According to Gumtree one common tactic is to price a scam sale just below the usual selling price - so it looks like a bargain rather than a scam. In some cases it's cheaper because it's a fake. In other cases, no product exists at all, and you'll get nothing in return for your money.

2. No pictures
If the seller has just cut and pasted an advert for the item, you have no proof that it exists at all. Gumtree warns that if they have also cut and pasted the text from a listing elsewhere, this should set alarm bells ringing too. It recommends that you do a Google search for the exact text, and an image search for the image, to see if it's just a duplicate.

3. Little information
Where the sale isn't genuine, the seller will try to include as little information as possible. If you're concerned about a listing, it's worth asking questions and asking for more photos. If they don't have the item, they'll struggle to answer or find more photos.

4. Seller feedback
Scammers will often open an eBay account, and buy lots of small things, so they get great seller feedback and build up a positive feedback score. You're interested in feedback from buyers, so go into the seller's profile and check the feedback from actual buyers. If there isn't any, then it should be a warning sign.

5. Lack of contact information
It should be possible to contact anyone you buy from online - easily. If there's no contact information listed, or if the contact details don't work, then avoid them, because even if they're not scamming you, it can cause all kinds of headaches.

6. Request for contact outside the official system
While you want contact details if something goes wrong, you don't want a seller who is keen to take contact away from the online auction or marketplace entirely. They may just want to dodge selling fees, but they may want to escape the monitoring they get from these sites, so if they insist on emailing or that you call a mobile, they may not be everything they seem.

7. Counterfeit sites
These are less common than simply selling through a third party, but some scammers will go to the trouble of setting up fake sites. Usually they are very similar to designer sites - possibly with an extra letter (like e or i), an extra word (like latest, best or store), or a slightly different spelling. If you spend your money on these sites, you will usually simply lose it - although sometimes you will have shoddy designer knock-offs sent to you instead - so check the web address before you buy.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams