Buyer beware of online markets

More than 13,000 problems with purchases in England and Wales on online marketplaces were reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service last year.

By Citizens Advice Northumberland
Friday, 3rd May 2019, 3:19 pm
Online Scam pic posed by model
Online Scam pic posed by model

Online marketplaces – websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products – are becoming increasingly popular for people trying to find the best deal, and Citizens Advice is warning residents in Northumberland to be aware of the dangers.

Citizens Advice Northumberland says people don’t always know they have fewer rights when they buy from a private seller compared to if they buy from a business.

If you buy from a private seller, the principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies. This means while the seller can’t misdescribe the item, they can omit information. For example, if a laptop is described as being a silver laptop in “excellent working condition”, but it’s faulty, you could ask for your money back. But if “excellent working condition” is missing from the description, you won’t be able to.

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Before buying something on an online marketplace, Citizens Advice Northumberland suggests that shoppers check all the product information carefully and recommends that extra care is taken, like reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.

Rachel Turnbull, operations manager for Citizens Advice Northumberland said: “Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces and we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase and their rights if something goes wrong.

“To reduce the risk of being left out of pocket it’s a good idea to check the product information on these sites carefully before they make a purchase.”

Here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:

• Check the product details. This should include photos, a description, cost, delivery charges, contact details for the seller and any cancellation rights.

• It should be clear if it is being sold by a trader or private seller – this is important as your rights are different. It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

• Take screenshots of the item you want to buy. This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website.

• Use a payment method that protects you. You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer.

• Go back to the seller if there’s a problem. Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute resolution service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair.

To get your money back from a private seller the product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back. If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back.

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline (formerly known as Consumer Direct) if you need more help with a consumer problem on 03454 04 05 06.

The helpline adviser can give you practical and impartial advice on how to resolve your consumer problem, tell you the law which applies to your situation, pass information about complaints on to Trading Standards (you can’t do this yourself)

However, the adviser can’t make a complaint for you or take legal action on your behalf.

Alternatively, visit for online help or drop into one of our many offices.

If you are interested in volunteering for Citizens Advice Northumberland contact [email protected] or call 01670 339985.