Until a few years ago, platforms like Craigslist and eBay dominated the space for online trade and classified ads. But with the increased traffic from smartphones, newer platforms like OfferUp use a mobile-first user interface to facilitate direct sales and purchases among users. Unfortunately, however, like any other online marketplace, OfferUp is not immune to fraudsters. With online scams on the rise, so too are OfferUp scams.
How OfferUp works
OfferUp gives users an easy way to sell and buy local products with features like an official payment gateway, shipping services, fraud protection and more. With more than 20 million monthly users, the 2011 startup has excelled in the peer-to-peer marketplace with an estimated valuation of more than $1 billion.
Unlike conventional e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Walmart, sellers and buyers can directly communicate with each other on OfferUp and negotiate a deal. This unrestricted communication is one of OfferUp’s many strong points but also invites various scams on the platform.
So, what are OfferUp scams, and how can you protect yourself from these? Let’s find out.
What are OfferUp scams?
When a buyer or seller tries to dupe you or steal your personal information is the hallmark of an OfferUp scam. These are some common OfferUp scams that you should beware of:
Verification code scams
Verification code scams are a common way scammers try to access your accounts. To perform this scam, the buyer or seller tries to convince you to share a verification code you may have received over the phone or email. Later, the scammer can potentially use this verification code to break into your online accounts.
A widespread verification code scam involves asking for the Google Voice verification code and later creating fake accounts in your name. Scammers then use these fake accounts to steal cash and data.
As a general rule, you should never share verification codes or one-time passwords (OTPs) with anyone on OfferUp.
Fake checks or cash
Scammers usually avoid meeting in person and prefer scamming people while staying in their safe space. That’s what makes the fake check or cash OfferUp scams unique, as scammers might sometimes agree to meet you in person to close the deal.
In such a scam, the buyer either hands over counterfeit currency or a fake check for the products. As it is tricky to identify fake cash or checks, the seller realizes the scam much later.
Sometimes a buyer can send in more money online than what was initially agreed upon, and this could be more than just a rookie mistake while entering the payment amount. In this scam, fraudsters overpay you for a product and then ask for a refund.
These fraudsters often use stolen credit cards or bad checks to make purchases. But since banks can easily trace the payments and nullify the transaction, scammers turn to online marketplaces such as OfferUp, where they pay you more than required and subsequently ask for refunds.
If you issue a refund against an overpayment, you essentially convert the fraudster’s illicit money into legit currency—and your item is stolen if the product is sent to the fake buyer.
Fake website scams
Have you receivedgot an OfferUp promotional email with a head-turning deal stating you can get the Sony PlayStation 5 (PS5) for just $100? Beware, as it could be a fake website scam.
Scammers may create a fake website that looks identical to OfferUp to scam buyers. These counterfeit websites have numerous too-good-to-be-true deals to lure as many buyers as possible. These are related to phishing scams, where emails that appear at first glance to be from reputable businesses.
Scammers often send links to such bogus websites through emails, social media or text message.The scam begins as soon as you click on these links. Fake platforms that can siphon cash or personal data. The payment gateway on such websites is nothing but a keylogger that stores your card details in the scammer’s database. Scammers can potentially drain your bank account once they have your card details.
These websites may also install malware or trackers in your web browser to spy on all your online activity.
Multiple postings scam
If you see the same product posted multiple times through different accounts, it could be a potential red flag of a scam. Scammers often post the same product deals through various accounts to lure buyers. These posts have almost identical templates where the seller wants you to contact them through email rather than through the “Buy Now” button.
Subsequently, scammers ask you to pay them outside OfferUp through wire transfers, gift cards, or, worst of all, fake payment gateways.
Additional shipping charge scams
OfferUp automatically calculates product shipping charges considering the product’s size, weight, and distance from the buyer. Unfortunately, it is a common scam where sellers ask for additional shipping charges for their products.
“If you need to have an item shipped, demand a tracking number so that you can monitor the package on its way to you,” said Kyle MacDonald, director of operations for Force by Mojio, which provides vehicle tracking for small businesses. “You should also pay with either directly on OfferUp, or using a credit card or a payment like PayPal, any kind of payment service that will allow you to contest the purchase, should it never arrive.”
You should immediately report any seller who tries to dupe you into paying additional shipping charges on top of the product’s base amount.
Priced too good to be true? Scam red flag
It is tough to resist a $1,000 Tesla or $10 PS5 but, examine this from a seller’s perspective. Why would anyone sell these expensive items for such low prices? As a buyer, you should immediately ignore highly lucrative deals and only contact sellers that genuinely price their products. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
One of the rare deals you may find on OfferUp revolves around rental properties. Rex Freiberger, CEO at Gadget Review, advises:
“If you see a rental property advertised and the poster demands a deposit upfront, that’s a major red flag for a potential scam. In this type of scam, a poster will advertise properties that aren’t theirs to advertise, take your deposit, and disappear. Never hand over a deposit for a rental without touring the property and confirming its availability first.”
Paying outside OfferUp scam
The “Buy Now” button on every OfferUp listing redirects you to their official payment gateway. The authorized payment gateway consists of numerous methods to pay the seller. OfferUp’s payment gateway has other underlying perks. For starters, OfferUp can track your payments and help you with a refund if the seller doesn’t deliver. Moreover, it is easier for sellers to track their payments through OfferUp’s official payments gateway.
However, you can quickly come across sellers who insist on paying outside the OfferUp platform. Scammers often do this to make their payments untraceable by OfferUp. Adding to the misery, OfferUp also won’t be able to help you with a refund in such cases.
Best protection against OfferUp scams
Now that you know about the common OfferUp scams, it is a great time to look at some ways to safeguard yourself while using OfferUp:
Avoid communication outside of the app
This holds true for both buyers and sellers alike. You come across different buyers and sellers on OfferUp, but these are essentially strangers. Communicating through OfferUp lets you connect with a buyer or seller without sharing personal information such as your phone number or email.
Precautions to take if meeting in person
In-person deals are the most reliable ones as you can examine the products before buying. However, meeting in person has its own risks. Choose a safe and well-lit public place with people around you for such meetings. A coffee shop or a restaurant could be an excellent choice for such deals.
Research the seller before buying
OfferUp lets buyers rate sellers according to their buying experience, considering numerous parameters such as product quality, seller’s behavior, pricing and much more. Seller ratings are available for everyone to see and are a great way to filter for potential fraudsters. If the person has no rating or a bad rating, that may be a red flag.
Only purchase local items
Buying items from far-off sellers adds complications. You need to pay shipping charges that may diminish the quality of the original deal. Moreover, you may never get your products after you make the pre-delivery payment. Sometimes, the delivered product may differ entirely from the seller’s initial promise.
“While it’s always best to see an item in person before you purchase it, sometimes this isn’t possible,” MacDonald said. “It is possible to find an honest seller out there that will faithfully mail the item to you, but it’s much easier to find a scammer that will promise to send the package, only to have it never arrive. If you need to have an item shipped, demand a tracking number so that you can monitor the package on its way to you. You should also pay with either directly on OfferUp, or using a credit card or a payment like PayPal, any kind of payment service that will allow you to contest the purchase, should it never arrive.”
That’s why buying locally is the best way to go; you can examine the product before buying. You can always refuse to accept if the products don’t match your expectations. Additionally, you don’t need to worry about the shipping charges, making the deal even better.
Don’t provide personal information
As mentioned already, anyone you come across OfferUp is likely to be a stranger who could be a scammer too. Providing personal details to a potential scammer could end up going horribly wrong. The scammer could use these details to create your fake seller profile or commit more severe forms of cybercrimes such as identity theft.
Watch out for overpayment on shipping
You should closely look at the invoice for any OfferUp transactions, as sellers often add additional shipping charges on top of the OfferUp’s shipping quote. You should immediately call out the seller for adding shipping charges to the invoice and ask them to remove it.
Report suspicious activity to OfferUp
OfferUp has a significant number of scammers, and the best way to deal with it on an individual level is to report any suspicious activity to the OfferUp team.
Sophisticated OfferUp scams can easily overwhelm you if you aren’t vigilant enough. However, if you keep a few points in mind and avoid scams, you could easily land some fantastic deals.