Online retail is growing steadily in Canada. According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 88% of Canadians made some kind of online purchase in 2021. And online marketplaces are growing in lock step.
Platforms like eBay, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace provide everyday consumers the perfect solution for buying and selling household goods, show tickets, electronics, furniture, vehicles and even real estate. Generally, transactions in these marketplaces are successful and legit, but there are more and more stories about online marketplace scams, sketchy encounters, transactions gone wrong, and products (or services) that don’t match what was advertised.
So, how do we sell and shop safely on an online marketplace? Here are a few tips and red flags to watch for:
- Do your research: Like with any purchase, spend some time doing product and price comparisons. Confirm that you’re paying a fair price for what you’re getting. If you’re looking for a car, get a Carfax Canada report before any purchase. You could also suggest taking the car to your mechanic for a trusted inspection. If you’ve got your eye on an antique, do your research to ensure the item you’re looking at buying really is one of a kind. If you’re buying show tickets, only accept secondhand stubs from legitimate retailers like TicketMaster, who allow original purchases to be transferred directly on their app. As the saying goes, keep in mind that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Protect your personal information and check the buyer or seller’s profile: As usual when chatting with people online who we don’t know face-to-face, never share personal information or banking details. If possible, choose to meet in person to exchange goods vs. giving them your home address and mentioning that you work downtown from 9-5. You can also check the profile of the person you are transacting with to gain insight into their buying and selling history. For instance, on Kijiji, you can see how long they have been a member and view their ‘star rating.’
- Meet face-to-face before transacting: to make sure you’re dealing with a real person with honest intentions, always meet in person before exchanging any money (even before making a deposit). Meeting in person also offers you the opportunity to examine the product and ensure it’s in the condition you expect before buying. For example, if you're buying electronics you can plug them in, turn them on, test the volume, etc.
- Pay with caution: cash and e transfers are typical when it comes to buying and selling on an online marketplace. If you’re the seller, it's recommended that you never accept cheques, and if accepting payment via e transfer, set up auto deposit which eliminates the need to fumble around with a security question and answer (and removes the risk of fraudsters intercepting the transfer if it lands in a compromised inbox). If you’re the buyer, always be wary of any request for e transfers up front (even if it’s just for a deposit!). Remember, once deposited by the recipient, you cannot reverse an email money transfer. Getting a request for payment in the form of gift cards can also be a tale-tale sign of a scam. If you're looking for extra security to protect your marketplace exchanges, platforms like PayPal offer protection for both buyers and sellers.
- Transact with physical safety in mind: for the day of the actual transaction (especially if there is a lot of cash or high value items involved) plan a safe encounter. Meet during the day, somewhere public with people around. Take a friend with you if possible, and if that’s not possible, share your whereabouts and any information you have on the buyer/seller with a friend or family member. Both Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace even recommend meeting in the lobby of a nearby police station. For transactions that involve pick up at a residence (i.e. for a piece of furniture or appliance), the same rules apply – meet during the day, share details and bring someone with you.
Online marketplaces are a great way to sell your unused items, make some extra cash), and shop for new and used items for great prices (especially as the cost of living increases). But like anything online, buying and selling requires awareness and attention, both for your personal and financial safety. With good research and a few simple precautions, you can have both successful and safe experiences when buying or selling online.