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Could you spot a student-targeted shopping scam?

Selling things online can be a quick way for students to bring in some extra cash, but it could also open the door to scammers looking to take advantage. Could you identify the warning signs?

Whether it’s old clothes and shoes or university textbooks that are no longer needed, with a quick photo students can be selling online to strangers in minutes, but scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques to exploit us.

A recent Natwest survey found that nearly one in 10 of the British public had fallen foul of an online phishing scam, so it’s important that we all know how to spot one.

Targeting students

The study also found that 18-24 year-olds are most likely to be scammed online, as they’re the most comfortable sharing their data online. 84% of this demographic saw no problem in sharing their personal details with people they know online – that’s more than 30% higher than over 55s.

With the rising costs of being a student in 2018, many look to online marketplaces, such as eBay, to make a bit of extra cash on the side. I recently had a chat with a student at Derby University, who decided to sell a limited edition pair of Adidas trainers on the site.

Unfortunately, his hastiness to make the sale resulted in him being contacted by a fraudster.

“I got made an offer which I accepted, but without me knowing it was obviously a fraud account. They told me they’d give me 200 pounds and they’d send it to my PayPal account once I’d taken a picture of the shoes in the box, ready to post. I started getting numerous emails, supposedly from PayPal, saying the money was in my account and it’s just pending”

The emails, which looked genuine, stated that in order for the transaction to complete, the seller would have to send the trainers off with proof of postage. Once this had happened, another scam email arrived, promising that the money would be released into the seller’s account within a couple of days.

When it clicked that something didn’t seem right, it was too late – the parcel had shipped to the USA. Miraculously the seller did manage to retrieve it, but at great expense.

“All in all, it cost me about £200 to get the trainers back, which was stressful and time-consuming. My phone just didn’t show me the full email address, so I believed the emails to be genuine”

Spotting a scam

The victim of this particular scam told me he’d do things very differently next time, having learnt a harsh lesson. If you have friends and family with experience in online selling sites, don’t hesitate to ask them for their advice and knowledge of the procedures.

Being in a rush to sell something is always risky, which is why these scams can tend to target students. Take your time, and make sure you read the buyer’s full profile and check their feedback.

When it comes to emails you receive during the selling process, again be sure you take the time to check them for authenticity – are there spelling or grammar errors? Does the full email address match up with the company it’s supposedly come from?

Have you had any experiences with dodgy marketplace buyers and fraudulent emails? Do you think you could spot a scam if you were in a hurry to sell?

This is a guest post by Sophie Proctor. All views expressed are Sophie’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.


eBay have made it very difficult to spot fraudulent activity, so fraudsters are probably on the increase.

When buying in the past, you could check out the seller’s previous sales and purchasers, check out other bidders and their previous purchases and make a reasonably informed decision whether the sale was a safe bet.

But eBay now hide the identities of bidders and purchasers so we have no way of checking.

Back in 2009 after eBay in their wisdom hid ids, someone wrote a useful article on How To Identify Shill Bidding Techniques And Avoid Them