Millions of us worldwide use classified websites such as Gumtree to buy or sell every day.
However, where there’s money, there are people trying to exploit the system.
Gumtree scams cost the online marketplace £1.59 billion, with victims being scammed multiple times, typically losing £63.76 each. It's a problem that is more common than you may think, with 93% of the British population unable to spot a scam.
Follow these expert tips to help protect yourself against online fraudsters:
1. When the price is just under the usual
Items on Gumtree subject to scams tend to be slightly cheaper than others, but not cheap enough to raise suspicion. You may see a product on sale for £10-£15 less than similar items listed in the same category and think it’s worth a punt, only to eventually find out it’s a scam.
Even when people suspect they are being scammed early in a transaction, more than a third (35%) continue the payment process due to the item being of low value, with three in 10 (29%) seeing it as a bargain worth the risk. Our time is more important, and criminals know that, so they try and exploit this situation.
2. When you’re asked to take the conversation offline
If the seller includes an email address or telephone number in the ad – either in the description or on the image – this is intended to take you away from the selling website. Gumtree research shows that 15% of scammers attempted to contact a buyer directly, as opposed to using the official messaging service.
If you're selling on Gumtree look out for fake email addresses, or buyers who are unwilling to share their name and contact details with you. If you can try to have a phone conversation to confirm - particularly for large purchases.
3. Scammers tell a good story
Thirteen per cent of scammers tell a compelling story to try and reassure buyers of their story before they make the purchase.
They also use good quality and genuine-looking pictures of the item, as well as detailed descriptions and specs, to emphasise the trustworthiness of their ad.
Another way scammers build trust is through initial effort and kindness – for example, when a seller offers to visit the victim’s house to make the transaction.
As the age old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
4. Check the text and imagery haven’t been copied
Search for the ad text on the internet to see whether it’s been used word-for-word before. You can also see whether the images are in use across the internet for other things by saving them down and dropping them into Google Images. Often, scammers use the same ad across multiple platforms to fish for vulnerable buyers.
5. Try before you buy
Fewer than half (46%) of online marketplace users check to see whether an item is real before finalising the transaction. This plays into the scammers’ hands, as 15% try to get payment before showing the item. Where possible, visit the seller in person and take a friend with you to test the item is fully functional. If the seller does not want to meet face-to-face to show you or sell the item in person, then it’ll likely be a scam. Always try to view the item in person before you part with your money.
6. Pay safely online
Be suspicious of a seller who first asks you to pay using one payment method, and then asks you to change to another, claiming they have bank account issues. More than a quarter (27%) of scammers attempt to complete the transaction quickly, so take your time and evaluate the options available – for example, ensure you are backed by a payment guarantee or use a two-step authorised and regulated process like PayPal.
Be very careful about sharing your bank details.
What to do if scammed on Gumtree
If you think you're a victim of a Gumtree PayPal scam, or are ever not sure about a PayPal transfer, you can contact PayPal directly for help verifying it. Learn more about fake PayPal emails.
When accepting a PayPal payment, always double check that the payment has actually been deposited into your account.
PayPal account payment confirmation emails can be faked, so make sure to check independently of the email (without using any links).
If the payment confirmation email claims the payment won’t appear in your account for any reason, contact PayPal (directly through their website, not the email) before proceeding.
How to report Gumtree scam
Gumtree also offer some advice about scams and how to report an ad.
Don't be afraid to speak up if you're wary of an ad or a potential buyer you think may be trying to scam you.
Reporting an ad on Gumtree
You can report any ad from its page. You’ll find the report button on the right, just below the seller’s contact details. Please report an ad if you think it’s:
• illegal or fraudulent
• a duplicate
• in the wrong category
• against posting rules