The scam Purchase scams

Value and volume (Santander data year to date: 1 Jan–14 Nov 2022) 

  • 12,654 purchase scams reported, up 24% on 2019, and totalling £11.5m 
  • Average scam cost £912.71, majority (69%) under £300
  • Men are on average scammed out of £1,017.73, compared to £756.85 for women 
  • Highest volume of cases among millennials and Gen Z:
    • 20-to-29-year-olds - 3,747 cases
    • 30-to-39-year-olds - 2,358 cases 
    • 40-to-49-year-olds - 1,953 cases
  • Christmas and New Year’s period is the most active for this type of scam, with highest number of scams occurring in January, then March, November, February and December 
  • Electronic items made up 19% of cases reported 

How the scam works
1.    Scammer advertises a fake sale of a popular item, this can be on social media, online marketplaces, by creating a fake website or hacking other sellers’ accounts. 
2.    The buyer shows interest in the item, and initially the fraudster may be friendly and helpful. 
3.    The scammer then creates a sense of panic and requires the buyer to pay urgently, insisting that the payment is made via a bank transfer up front rather than through PayPal or cash on collection. 
4.    Once the payment has been made, the seller usually disappears or communication stops, leaving the customer out of pocket. No item is even received. 

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Risk Management, Santander UK: “With cost of living pressures increasing, this Black Friday and Christmas period, more of us are likely to look for a bargain whether that’s on an online marketplace or on social media. But shoppers need to be on their guard to avoid falling victim to a scammer. 

“Purchase scams are the most common scam that we see, and no-one wants to be disappointed when that longed-for item never arrives. So keep safe. Don’t be pressured into paying for something using a bank transfer, instead stick to the payment advice that the buying site recommends and never pay by bank transfer if you haven’t seen the item in person.” 

What to do 
•    If you are concerned that you have been a victim of a purchase scam, contact your bank and/ or the police.

How to protect yourself 

  • If buying from a reputable buying site such as eBay, Airbnb, Autotrader or Gumtree, stick to the advice and process they’ve provided. Never communicate outside the site.
  • Avoid paying in cash, or by bank transfer, where you can pay with secure payments, such as PayPal or your credit card.
  • If you’re buying a large item such as a car, make sure you see it in person before making any payment. 
  • Be wary of accepting payment for goods by cheque.
  • Never send personal or financial details by email.
  • Research the seller and site and always read the reviews. Check several review sites and compare them. This helps rule out any fake reviews left by fraudsters.
  • If something seems too good to be true, it no doubt is. 

Case study – Male Aged 29

Mr W saw a van for sale on eBay’s classified ads for £4,950 and contacted the seller to show his interest. Mr W did his own checks, which included a smart check (HPI & vehicle registration) and was satisfied as all the details matched what the seller had told him. He was told that four other parties were interested in purchasing the van and that the seller was going to sell it to whoever made the payment first, so didn’t go to see it in person. 

Mr W, not wanting to miss out, made the payment via bank transfer and arranged to pick up the van that weekend. On the day he was supposed to pick up the van, he contacted the seller, but the seller told him he had family issues and they both agreed to delay until the next weekend. 

The following week, Mr W called the seller to arrange pick up, but this time there was no response. He made his way to the pickup address, but no one was home and there was no van. A neighbour informed Mr W the person who lived there did not have the name of the seller he’d communicated with, and they’d never seen a van parked at the address. 

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