Staying vigilant when buying online

[This article was first published at]

As promised in my previous post, I will be sharing how scammers make use of online marketplace platform to scam unknowing buyers. Most of the content below are derived from my experience in running GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG.

Rise of consumer-to-consumer trading platform

A few year back, Yahoo Auction was arguably the king of online trading platform in Singapore. Even Ebay was not a strong competition to Yahoo Auction at that time. Online classified such as 88db and GumTree were always there too but they never gained critical mass or become super popular. Yahoo Auction Singapore was then shut down in 2008 and the popularity of C2C marketplace declined.

Fast forward to today, there are now many platforms for people to buy and sell their stuff. Amongst them are general trading platforms such as Carousell, Qoo10 and the recent Trezo by SPH. There are also more dedicated ones like SgCarMartGameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG which cater to a specific genre of items.

Of course the most impressive platform is none other than Carousell which raised $6M late last year and have experienced tremendous growth in terms of user base.

Most sellers on these platform are genuine individuals. However, online scams are on the rise and the authorities have even created website to educate the public. You may think that you are an experienced online shopper and you will not fall for such scams. You maybe wrong.

Tell tale signs of a scammer

a) Price of goods is un-un-un-believably cheap

The most easy give-away of a scammer which most people tends to ignore is goods sold at ridiculously cheap price.

Cheap PS4

For example, you saw this ad online on a PS4 that cost only SGD400. A quick google will reveal that a typical PS4 would cost above $500. Furthermore the set is brand new! Sounds too good to be true? Yes it is too good to be true!

Typically the seller will only contact you via email or private message (if it is present in the trading platform) so as to hide his identity. He will ask you to transfer the money to a bank account and promise to deliver the goods to you.

After some time, you realised that the item did not reach you. So you contacted the seller again and he mentioned that the item is stuck at the custom and he would need you to transfer more money to him. And so you did. Soon after you realised that you have been conned, you tried to contact the seller again but there will be no more replies. A police report is your next best option.

How to avoid

To prevent yourself from getting scammed, always checked the market price of the item of interest before committing to any purchase. If the price is way lower than market price, exercise caution. Ask for a meet-up and before making the payment.

b) Seller uses only email to contact you and not via mobile number

The next tell tale sign of a scammer is his mode of contact. Typically, reputable sellers and shops are more than willing to contact you via mobile number since it is the fastest and simplest mode of contact. As such contact numbers are traceable by the police, scammers would prefer to use anonymised mode of contact such as email or any private messaging system on the platform.

If you asked for the contact number and the seller refused to share, it may be best to walk away from the deal.

c) Making payments via Paypal/Alipay or even bank account

Other methods includes payment via facilities such as Paypal and Alipay. A scammer will typically ask you to make top-up to their accounts as mode of payment. Unless you are very sure that the seller is reputable, refrain from doing that.

Transferring money to bank accounts are generally traceable. There have been a few cases where scammers asked buyers to transfer money to a bank account. Turns out that the bank account belongs to companies that have a prepaid wallet system. Some websites such as 65daigou allow their user to transfer money into their bank account as a form of top up for their digital wallet. The credits within the wallet can then be withdrawn by their user or used for purchases. An email is all it takes to create a user account on such sites. So do not think that bank transfer are fully traceable.

Transferring money to foreign banks may be even more difficult for the police to take action. So think twice before sending money overseas.

How to avoid

The best way to avoid such scam is to do cash-on-delivery. Pay in cash only upon seeing the goods. Meeting up the seller is recommended. If you really need to do bank account transfer, you can do a quick google of the bank account number that was passed to you. A private bank account should not appear on any websites.

d) User rating

This is a bit of a no brainer. Of course you would want to deal with someone with a good user rating on the platform. However, you should also be mindful that not all ratings may be genuine. There is nothing to stop a scammer from creating multiple accounts. Use the ratings as a guideline but not as a foolproof way of filtering out scammers.

User rating

Always stay vigilant

I know this article may sounds like a message from the police but I can assure you that I am not working in the police force. Coming from an operator of online marketplace platform, I feel really bad whenever I received emails from the users that they have been scammed on my platform. While we have messages to warn user of potential scammers, some time the system may fail to pick up such individuals. It will still be best for our users to understand how such scammers operate and avoid them.

As we get more accustomed to transacting online, we should always stay alert and be mindful that there will always be scammers out there in the wild. So the next time you buy anything online, check and double check the credential of the seller before you make the purchase.

Disclaimer: The writer operates both the GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG platform in Singapore.

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