Buying goods on social media: how to avoid being ripped off

2 min read
November 25, 2020

I recently appeared on Rip Off Britain Live  to talk about dodgy online retailers and as the programme aired, the phone lines and email inboxes melted. It turns out the particular scam we were discussing was more widespread that we thought. The subject? Dodgy retailers on social media. 

The way we shop has fundamentally changed over lockdown. Many people who were reluctant to buy things online were forced on to the web out of necessity. Online shopping has many benefits. It’s much easier to order things from the comfort of your sofa. But in some cases things are not always what they seem. 

The latest scam involves goods that you order through adverts on Facebook or Instagram that aren’t even remotely what they claim to be online. Some shocking examples I’ve seen include:

  • A kitchen table and chairs that was sold with pictures of a happy family sitting around it, that turned out to be for a dolls house when it was delivered.
  • A machine that fires balls for your dog to chase, sold with an advert showing a machine industriously firing away for various deliriously happy dogs. The purchaser was sent a tennis ball in a plastic bag. The ball didn’t even bounce. 
  • A man who purchased an electric bike online for £99 only to be sent a life size cardboard cut-out of an electric bike. 
  • A range of people buying refurbished smartphones only to be sent pictures of the phones from various angles.

How is this legal?

In short, it’s not. But herein lies the problem. Many of these sellers are based abroad and though their adverts look professional, they’re actually cheap and easy to fake. 

These people are con-artists. They vanish and reappear in other guises faster than you can blink. Astoundingly, some of these retailers are semi-official and brazenly respond to emails.

Many people ask me why these firms bother to send anything, when it’s quite clearly a rip off. The simple answer is taking money and not delivering anything is a direct criminal act. However, sending something that arguably meets the criteria – even if it’s bonkers – means it becomes more of a grey area in the eyes of the law. 

How can I avoid being ripped off?

Here are a few tips to help you avoid being bamboozled by dodgy online sellers.

  • If you see an advert for goods that are too good to be true at that price, they probably are. 
  • Don’t just click through a social media advert to make a purchase. See if the firm has a website first and then check to see where the seller is based. Just because the seller isn’t based in the UK, it doesn’t mean it’s not legit – but it can be harder to resolve a dispute if the goods aren’t as advertised or are broken. 
  • Before you click to confirm, always check the returns policy of a retailer. If it’s not clear, email the seller to find out what you’d be expected to do if there’s a problem. 
  • If you get scammed, contact your bank and ask them to ‘charge back’ your cash. It’s not always guaranteed but it’s worth a go. This only works if you pay by debit or credit card though. 

If you have a complaint because your purchase isn’t up to scratch, Resolver can help. Start your complaint for free.

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