Buying and Selling Personal Items: Considerations for Staying Safe Online

26 May 2023 UK SIC

The advent of social media, smartphones, and various online platforms has significantly transformed the way we buy and sell personal items. Gone are the days of relying solely on car boot sales and local newspapers; now, we can effortlessly snap a photo of an unwanted item, post it online, and wait for potential buyers to show interest. The convenience of using apps and channels like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Vinted, Schpock, Gumtree and Depop to sell our belongings cannot be denied.

However, it is crucial to recognise that online buying and selling can involve communicating with strangers and sharing personal information. Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of certain considerations to ensure appropriate safety and protection while using these platforms. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

Interacting with Strangers: Depending on the platform, you may have the opportunity to communicate with potential buyers or sellers. This feature allows individuals to request additional information about an item and coordinate the delivery or receipt of goods. While most interactions online are positive, it is important to approach them with caution, as some people may have malicious intentions, such as scams. Remember that you are under no obligation to communicate with individuals who behave offensively, intimidate you, or cause harm. Many apps have reporting and blocking features, so utilise them if necessary.

Sharing Personal Information: Depending on the person you’re interacting with, you might be asked to share personal information such as your home address or bank details to facilitate the delivery or acceptance of items. Additionally, if you have created a profile on these apps, the information you provided, such as your username or bio, may be visible to others (depending on your privacy settings). Sometimes, a username may include identifiable information like your name or date of birth, but you are not obliged to include such details if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. While sharing certain information may be necessary to complete a transaction, always consider whether you are comfortable sharing these details with strangers. Never feel pressured to disclose anything you’re not comfortable with.

Avoid Oversharing When Selling: Whether you’re selling old clothes, garden furniture, or a brand-new microwave, it is important not to overshare and keep your listings focused and concise. Ensure that the photos you include only depict the item for sale and do not reveal any compromising information such as bank statements or personal photos. If someone requests additional information or photographs of the item, maintain appropriate boundaries and refrain from providing anything that is clearly unnecessary for the purpose of selling, such as a photo of yourself. Alternatively, you can use editing tools to conceal any parts of the photos you don’t wish to share. If someone asks for anything inappropriate, remember to report behaviour through the appropriate channels.

Beware of Scams: While many items listed for sale online accurately represent what you’ll receive, it is important to be prepared for instances where something might seem too good to be true or when false information or hidden damages are involved. Unfortunately, scams are prevalent on online selling platforms, and it is our responsibility to critically evaluate and determine what is safe to engage with. Try to verify the credibility of the seller by checking for reviews and assessing the coherence, information, and detail provided in the write-up and photography. Additionally be aware of the use of stock photography, clickbait headlines and consider whether the price is reasonable compared to similar listings. You can always research the item’s value through separate channels. Most importantly, ensure that the platform has mechanisms in place to report violations and seek refunds if necessary, as may be outlined in terms and conditions. If available, explore any payment protections or assurances that can provide added security.

Choosing Meeting Locations: When engaging in selling items, it becomes necessary to arrange for the delivery of goods, and different individuals employ various approaches to ensure a smooth transaction. If you have concerns about sharing your home address, rest assured that alternative options are available. When buying or selling an item, you may find it more comforting to suggest meeting in a public place or invite a friend or family member to accompany you. If these alternatives are not feasible, inform a trusted person about the time and location of your meeting. However, if you ever feel unsafe or face immediate danger, do not hesitate to contact the police on 999.

Resolving Issues and Follow-ups: Typically, after a transaction is completed, communication between the buyer and seller comes to an end. However, problems can arise, leading some individuals to lodge complaints or request refunds. In such cases, it is advisable to seek support from the platform where the transaction took place and utilise any available measures to protect yourself from being misled or safeguard buyers and sellers against unwarranted complaints, harassment, or intimidation. Platform support often includes reporting functions and complaint procedures designed to assist in resolving such issues. Remember, if you ever find yourself in an unsafe situation or facing immediate danger, contact the police immediately on 999.

Age Restrictions: Many of the online selling platforms will have age restrictions in place ranging from 13 to 18+ so it’s important for parental involvement to be in place for any young person who uses permitted sites.

Reporting on Apps and Platforms

Take a look below at some of the most established online selling platforms and familiarise yourself with their age restrictions for holding accounts and what features they have to support individuals online with reporting and blocking.

Reporting Members & Age Restrictions

Blocking Members

As we engage in online transactions for buying or selling personal items, safeguarding takes precedence. If you need more support to report material online, you can always visit Report Harmful Content for more information.