Gumtree's six ways to spot an online selling scam

Millions of us worldwide use classified websites such as Gumtree to buy and sell items every day. However, where there’s money, there are people trying to exploit the situation. Scams cost the online marketplace £1.59 billion, with victims being scammed multiple times, typically losing £63.76 each. With 93% of the British population unable to spot a scam, Gumtree has developed the following expert tips to help protect you against online fraudsters:

1. When the price is just under the usual

Items 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.

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, 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.

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 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 process like PayPal.


Is Gumtree safe?

Millions of people use Gumtree every day and the vast majority have a safe and successful experience. The site is committed to educating the communities who use the platform and to keep the site as safe as possible. While Gumtree doesn’t sell anything directly itself, the site is developing new ways to educate its customers on best practices for payments and personal safety, with extensive online tips and information.