How to Be Safe When Buying or Selling Online

How to Be Safe When Buying or Selling Online


A recent news item tells the story of a 21-year-old man who was killed after advertising his motor vehicle for sale on a popular website. The young man met with a would-be buyer and was later found shot.

The daily use of Facebook, online dating and social media means that we are often readily trusting of people that we meet online. We are all vulnerable to the dangers that accompany interacting on the Internet. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that these exchanges are made as securely as possible.

Online is as safe as any other method

According to Felix Erken, MD of local classifieds exchange, Junk Mail, the perception that online classified sites are rife with fraudulent posts or online scams is false. “Less than 1% of the adverts on our site are considered ‘fraudulent’ – and we eliminate most of them before they are ever published,” Erken says.

“We don’t actually facilitate the physical transaction between the seller and the buyer, but we do have measures in place to protect both parties, such as the automated moderation of adverts. If a suspicious advert is detected, a red flag is raised by the automated system; the advert is passed to the moderation expert team for review. Should the content raise a cause for concern, it is immediately removed.”

According to Erken, online classifieds are currently the safest they’ve ever been since their inception. “There are so many social tools and mechanisms to flag suspicious advertisements as opposed to the print only days or the early days of the Internet,” Erken explains. “We encourage users to report suspicious ads immediately. We also keep a record of these adverts and scams on our blog, which the public can consult if they are unsure of the legitimacy of an advert.”

Buying and selling is risky

Erken acknowledges that there are risks involved when buying or selling, regardless of the platform. “Whenever there is interaction with strangers, there is a degree of risk – whether you are online dating, advertising an open house via estate agent or pinning an advertisement to the actual window of your car,” he states.

Tips when buying, swopping or selling online

  • Know the potential buyer/ seller – have a name, telephone number, place of work and the contact details at hand. Always verify these details.
  • Always have a friend accompany you when meeting a prospective buyer/seller and do this in a very public place.
  • Do not be in a hurry to transact. If something doesn’t feel right, move on.
  • Leave your valuables at home.
  • Cash or EFT should be your preferred method of trade.
  • Wait for deposits to clear before handing over any goods and don’t trust SMS notifications as proof of payment.

Online classifieds are no more dangerous than other form of advertising, but the onus remains on both the buyer and the seller to take every safety precaution possible before conducting a transaction.

Always be vigilant and report fraud or scams to the customer care contact number that should be visible on the website that you are transacting on.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.