More than a quarter of Brits have fallen prey to online scammers – even though a majority of victims thought there was something fishy going on. How do scammers convince you to go against your gut instinct?
New research from online marketplace Gumtree shows 27% of British adults have fallen for a scam online, losing on average £63.76 each. But the bad news may not have come as a surprise for everyone – up to 55% of victims reported they thought the transaction might be suspicious early on, but continued anyway.
As online shopping becomes more popular, fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques. Which? explains the top tactics scammers use to convince you to go ahead with a transaction and how you can avoid taking the bait.
Find out more: The Which? guide to internet scams
1. The bargain is too good to pass up
The Gumtree survey found that scammers used low pricing to entice targets, even those who might otherwise be skeptical. Of the victims who reported having suspicions about the transaction, 35% said they went ahead anyway because it involved a small sum of money while 29% felt the bargain was worth the risk.
Items priced significantly below their normal market value could be an online trap for bargain hunters. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always question why an item is significantly discounted and ask yourself whether the price seems realistic.
2. The decision has to be made quickly
Scammers know that time is of the essence. The longer their target thinks about the transaction, the more likely they are to spot red flags. The survey found that 27% of scammers tried to rush through the transaction, while 17% tried to get payment before the item was viewed.
If a seller is putting pressure on you to move quickly, consider whether they are trying to pull a fast one
Find out more: Are you an easy fraud target? – take our test
3. Fake ads look real
In some cases, fraudulent ads are obvious, with terrible spelling, bad photoshop or information that is flat-out wrong. Often though, people can’t tell a fake ad from a real one. In an exercise where Brits were shown eight ads and asked to identify frauds, just 7% were able to correctly spot all of them.
A major warning sign is ad copy that seems generic or is lifted from somewhere else, with 24% of scammers using this approach. But bear in mind that even a legitimate-seeming ad might be a con, and keep an eye out for any other signs that the seller is not above board.
Find out more: How to spot a fake, fraudulent or scam website
4. Sellers weave a tale
Scammers know that if buyers trust them, they are less likely to take the same precautions to protect themselves. Around 21% of scam victims said they went ahead because they trusted the seller. In around 15% of cases, scammers offered up a compelling story, with dramatic twists designed to distract from their ploy.
When dealing with strangers on the internet, wariness should be your default. No matter how trustworthy the person seems, take all normal measures to verify their authenticity.
5. Communications go offline
Many online platforms have systems in place to detect fraud, or to compensate buyers who get defrauded. To bypass these security measures, scammers will often encourage you to contact them outside of the platform, either by mobile phone or email.
If a seller seems eager to deal with you outside of the normal communications channels for that platform, be cautious. Communicating via the platform is often the safest way to protect yourself and may help you get your money back.
6. Victims are reluctant to come forward
For many people, there is a sense of shame that comes with being scammed – especially if they acted against their better judgement. Around 39% of victims reported ‘feeling stupid’ while 28% blamed themselves.
This leads to under-reporting of fraudsters, with up to 15% of victims choosing not to report the incident to the online platform or the police. Scammers rely on this sense of shame to keep operating with impunity.
Anyone can get scammed – but reporting the scammer helps prevent other people from falling into the same trap.
Find out more: How to report a scam
7. Buyers take short-cuts
As buying and selling online becomes commonplace, some buyers are failing to protect their own best interests.
Around 26% of online buyers said they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ asked for paperwork to verify that the product or service they are receiving is genuine. Almost one in five don’t attempt to compare the ad to others on the site for authenticity, and 15% take no steps to check if an item is real.
When it comes to money, buyers are savvier, with 67% always paying by credit card or Pay Pal so they can claim back any payments. No matter how often you buy online, keep doing your due diligence and remember that you never know who is on the other side of the transaction.