Classified scams trick buyers or sellers into thinking they are dealing with a legitimate contact but it is actually a scammer.

How this scam works

For buyers

Scammers will pose as genuine sellers and post fake ads on classifieds websites, in print classifieds, and may approach you through email or on social media platforms.

The ad can be for anything, such as rental properties, pets, used cars, boats, bikes, caravans and horses. It may even include pictures and other details – often copied from a genuine seller’s ad. In order to lure a number of victims in a hurry, the scammer advertises the item at a low price, often much lower than comparable items advertised on the same site.

When you show interest in the item, the scammer may claim that they are travelling or have moved overseas and that an agent will deliver the goods following receipt of payment. Following payment you may receive a fake email receipt claiming to be from the website’s secure payment provider, however, you won’t receive the goods and will not be able to contact the seller.

In the case of rental properties, the scammer will pose as a property owner or landlord and post a fake copy of a genuine rental property ad. When you show interest, the scammer will make excuses as to why you cannot inspect the property, often claiming that they are currently overseas. If you are still interested, they will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance. You will never receive the keys to the property and the scammer will disappear with your money.

For sellers

If you are advertising your items for sale through print and online classifieds, beware of scammers posing as genuine buyers. Scammers may make up stories such as needing your help to pay an agent or third party for upfront costs like transportation or insurance. They may promise you reimbursement for these costs.

Alternatively the scammer may send a cheque for more money than the agreed sale price. The scammer will invent an excuse for the overpayment, such as to cover the fees of an agent or extra shipping costs, or that it was simply human error. The scammer will then ask you to refund the excess amount – usually through an online banking transfer, pre-loaded money card, or a wire transfer – before you discover that their cheque has bounced.

In both cases, you will lose the money you gave the scammer, and if you have already sent the item you were selling, you will lose it as well.

Warning signs

For buyers

  • The classified ad promotes products, services or rental properties advertised at very low prices, often lower than comparable items advertised on the same and other websites.
  • The seller claims to be unavailable (e.g. they are travelling or have moved overseas) and insists on payment prior to arranging for delivery of the goods.
  • You receive a fake email receipt claiming to be from the website’s secure payment provider.
  • When dealing with rental property, the ‘landlord’ won’t allow you to view the property and will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance.

For sellers

  • The potential buyer is willing to purchase your item without having viewed it in person – even if you are selling an expensive item such as a car.
  • A potential overseas buyer is interested in purchasing your item despite it being a commonly available item in their home country (e.g. a car or a couch). Often the shipping costs would far outweigh the cost of the item itself.
  • The buyer sends you a cheque for more than the agreed price, and then asks you to refund the overpaid amount.

Protect yourself

For buyers

  • If the advertised price of a good, service or rental property looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have any doubts, don't go ahead with the deal.
  • Don’t trust the legitimacy of an ad just because it appears in a reputable newspaper or classifieds website – scammers post fake ads in these too.
  • Do an internet search using the exact wording in the ad, many well-known scams can be found this way.
  • For rental properties or holiday accommodation, only use reputable online booking agents - do an online search to find out which ones are reliable. Always check the refunds and cancellations policy.
  • For physical goods, the safest option is to only pay the seller after you have inspected the goods in person. Similarly, do not pay a deposit or any partial payments before you have inspected an item.
  • Don't trust an ad that says you can buy a pet from overseas in a few weeks as there are quarantine procedures(link is external) that need to be followed.

For sellers

  • Be wary of any transactions that involve an overpayment, and requests to refund the excess money by internet banking or wire transfers.
  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
  • If you have been sent a cheque for more money than the agreed price, send it back and ask for another cheque with the correct amount.
  • Do not send the items to the buyer until the cheque has cleared in your bank account.
  • For items of high value, do not allow potential buyers to inspect the goods without someone else being there to supervise.

Have you been scammed?

We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.

Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

Contact the relevant website to let them know the scammer’s profile name and any other details that may help them to stop others being scammed.

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