However, once the victim goes through with the transaction, the product is either of substandard quality or never even arrives. When attempting to seek a refund, the website or listing vanishes, leaving the victim empty-handed.

How to spot purchase scams

If you notice any of the following, consider the risks of going ahead with the transaction:

  • The product or service you are offered is much cheaper compared to the same product elsewhere
  • Instead of being asked to pay on the platform’s recommended payment options, you are asked to pay via bank transfer
  • The website or seller’s deals and offers have a sense of urgency and pressure to them
  • The website was only launched a few days or weeks ago
  • You receive a receipt via email from a domain that does not match the websites. You can use this tool to search a webpage’s domain name.

Tips to avoid these scams and protect your money

  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
  • Stick to secure payment channels within the platform or website, avoiding off-platform transactions such as bank transfers. If the goods are fake or do not exist, it is very unlikely the bank can recover your money.
  • When buying from social media or online auction sites:
    • If you have to pay for something by transfer or cash (for example second-hand furniture listed on a social media site), do not send money for goods without inspecting it and making sure you are satisfied
    • Follow the platform’s fraud guidance and advice
    • Check the seller’s rating or reviews
  • When buying from a company website:
    • Read reviews and research products, do not trust the reviews the company has on its own website
    • Check for information about the company from GOV.UK. You can search for details like the registered company name and date incorporated

Common types of purchase fraud

  • Cars: criminals target potential buyers by listing fake or stolen vehicles for sale at discounted prices, luring victims into purchasing cars they do not receive. Read tips for safely buying a used car from Citizens Advice.
  • Luxury goods: a scam that is becoming more popular sees criminals listing designer items online at enticing prices, exploiting people’s desires for luxury goods.
  • Event tickets: criminals set up fake websites or social media profiles to sell tickets for sporting, music, or theatre events. It’s important to book tickets through the official site even if it is pricier as anything else could be a scam. See more advice on ticket scams from Action Fraud.
  • Holidays: fraudsters can create fake accommodation listings, websites and reviews to tempt potential holidaymakers into parting with their cash. Learn more from our article.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

  1. Stop further payments and contact your bank or card provider as soon as possible, as they may be able to help
  2. Report the scam to the police via Action Fraud. It’s helpful to keep records of all communication and transactions
  3. Change passwords if necessary

Selling things online? You should still watch out for scams

While purchase scams often emphasise the impact on buyers, it’s important to note that a seller can also be victims of these scams. This can include:

  • Sellers paying for couriers to send goods never paid for
  • False claims that items have not been delivered
  • Financial damage and ruined reputations
  • Being impersonated by criminals. Sellers must be wary of how much personal information is provided

It is important for sellers to stay vigilant and keep preventative measures in place to prevent themselves from being victims of purchase fraud.